Mamma Mia! It’s the Greek Festival!

Greek church.jpg

This Greek Festival at the Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church downtown is one of Birmingham’s best culinary traditions. From Sept. 29 through Oct.1st, cars will line up around the 19th street block as bankers in suits and nurses in scrubs wait for a taste of Greek food heaven.

It’s no secret that some of the best resturants in Birmingham have Greek decendants behind them. What is remarkable is how so many professional restauranteurs and enthusiastic families come together to operate such a large-scale, professional-level event to benefit their congregation.

Members convert the church parking deck into a blue and white party room complete with folk dancers in native costumes. A market around the perimeter features vendors selling jewelry, imported textiles and serving pieces made of olive wood. (One year we caught sight of a lamb roasting on a spit outside, which was a bit graphic given the Mary-had-a-Little-Lamb nighttime routine I was perfecting in those days.)

You purchase a ticket that is color coded according to the meal you’ve chosen, then go to the respective food line where you’ll be given a tray to carry your dinner (baked greek chicken, souvlakia, etc.). The take out line is usually longer but it packages dinners in clamshell boxes and bags, so it’s actually easier to manage with one hand (for example, if you have a toddler or a stroller to steer). The best strategy I have found is to split up so Mom can grab seats while Dad lines up for food, even if it takes more than one trip.

During the day it’s more comfortable to eat indoors in the upstairs hall, which you can reach from the 4th Ave. South entrance. There is a wide flight of steps leading up to the dining hall, but the payoff is air conditioning in a quieter setting. Be prepared to swap friendly conversation with the other eight or so people seated at each large round table.

The baked chicken dinner is fabulous and the smell of fried Greek doughnuts (with a proper name I will not attempt to spell) is irresistible. Bring plenty of wet wipes because honey from the doughnuts and powdered sugar from the wedding cookies makes for a messy feast. You won’t mind.

The family-friendly atmosphere is convivial, if hectic, and it’s lucky for me they aren’t booking Greek Isle cruises on the spot. With the mandolines and dancers all around, I think I would impulsively part with a down payment. For the moment, the Greek Festival is as close as I can get. Opa!