June 29, 2013

Greek fare at annual festival pronounced excellent by all

The homemade souvlaki, moussaka, gyros and baklava have many happily returning year after year.

PORTLAND — Charles Antonacos sat at one end of a table filled with a dozen family members and friends Saturday, back for the second day in a row to sample the fare at the annual Greek Food Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Pleasant Street.

click image to enlarge

Bill Doukas, left, and Tim Morrell make the very popular gyros, about 200 an hour according to Doukas, for visitors Saturday at the Greek Food Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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click image to enlarge

Byron Neal grills lamb souvlaki with help from Christopher Makrides, right, Saturday at the Greek Food Festival held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland.

Tucking into the lamb shish kebab, the Biddeford resident said it is hard to stay away from the homemade food.

"It is good enough to come back to," Antonacos said.

You don't have to be Greek to enjoy the cuisine at the three-day festival. Antonacos' table included people of African, English, Irish, French Canadian and German heritage, most of them back for a second meal.

The festival raises about 40 percent of the Holy Trinity's annual budget. The church includes about 250 families of Greek, Eastern European and Ethiopian descent. Holy Trinity is one of four Greek Orthodox churches in Maine. Others are in Saco, Lewiston and Bangor. The Saco and Lewiston churches also put on festivals later in the summer. Many of the attendees at Portland's festival visit all three.

The Portland festival features homemade Greek delicacies such as moussaka, souvlaki and rice pilaf. The hands-down favorite is the gyros, said festival organizers. The handmade pastries, such as baklava and thiples, are another big draw. They are baked by the parish women's guild. At night there is a Greek band and dancing.

Preparations for the festival begin in February. Normally about 10,000 people turn out for the Thursday through Saturday event, but heavy rain this year reduced the numbers by about 10 percent, said organizers.

The festival started more than three decades ago, according to Paul Ureneck, a member of the parish council.

"It would be safe to say 35 years," said Ureneck, who has helped out at the festival for 33 of those years.

The first was organized by the late Bill Moustrouphis, a Greek immigrant who learned how to cook for a crowd by running U.S. Army mess halls, said his daughter Angela Moustrouphis. "Between him and my mom our home was always full of fun and full of food," said Moustrouphis.

Donna and Michael Schack of Portland said they are regular visitors at the festival.

"We love to eat and this is restaurant quality," Donna Schack said.

Marilyn Zanca of Old Orchard Beach brought two of her friends. The women started their meal with dessert.

"Life's too short. Start with dessert first," said Zanca, quoting a sign posted at Tony's Donut Shop in Portland.

Zanca bought two boxes of Greek cookies to take home.

"I tried making them but they don't taste the same," she said.

Pam and Greg Vatulas of Falmouth said they try to get to the festival every year.

"The food is excellent. We have never been disappointed," Greg Vatulas said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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