Eat Greek for a day … or two or three

Nothing less than they serve at home: Gus Zourzoukis readies a batch of Greek meatballs. Andrea Zourzoukis

Some festivals feature hot dogs and funnel cakes, maybe a turkey leg here and there. The Asheville Greek Festival serves lamb shanks.

“It's not for those who have a demure or light appetite,” says Sue Arakas, a member Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Montford, which hosts the festival. “This is a full lamb shank that is prepared in a special way by our cooks that have gotten together and combined all the best practices of how to make lamb shanks, and they bake it in a delicious tomato-based sauce. It literally falls off the bone.”

Holy Trinity takes food seriously. Preparing the dishes of Greece, the homeland of many of the members, isn't just about eating; it's a way of connecting with Asheville. “Certainly hospitality is one way that we can show our genuine affection for our fellow man,” Arakas says. “It's just another way to open up our arms and have you be Greek for a day.”

The made-from-scratch offerings represent traditional Greek dishes: spanakopita (filo pastry filled with spinach, onions and cheeses), pastichio (a pasta dish of ground beef and béchamel sauce), gyros, baklava and traditional Greek coffee (a strong, foamy brew cooked in small batches) are just a few of the dishes the congregation will prepare.

Arakas says the cooks compile their recipes very particularly, drawing from different versions that each family brought with them from Greece. Now in her mid-50s, Arakas says she's a youngster in the kitchen. “I'm still relegated to chopping the onions and squeezing the spinach,” she says. “These women and gentlemen who come and cook wouldn't dare dream of serving anyone anything less than what they'd serve in their own home. They are very proud people. We are very proud people.”

This year, Arakas is particularly excited about the homemade filo dough demonstration. The flaky pastry is notoriously difficult to make from scratch. “It's flour, water, a little oil, and it's all in the wrist and how you make the dough just right so it's not to stiff, not too soft,” Arakas says. “I remember being a young girl and watching my mother roll out the filo, and she used a broomstick … She could roll out filo dough in a New York minute, but that is kind of a lost art nowadays. We've become convenience-based.”

In addition to edibles, the festivities will include music, dancing and church tours. The congregation will set up a market to sell imported foodstuffs in addition to traditional clothing and religious icons. Nick Demos and the Greek Islanders, an ensemble from Atlanta, will play tunes that feature the bouzouki, a traditional Greek string instrument.

Proceeds from the event benefit the church's renovation projects — they're dealing with issues related to a leaky roof — as well as a charity that the congregation has yet to determine.

The festival takes place at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 227 Cumberland Ave. in Montford. It's a three-day affair that runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 – 29 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30. Food prices range from $1 to $16 (for the lamb shank). The vendors accept Visa and Mastercard. For more information and a full list of food offerings, visit www.holytrinityasheville.com/greek_festival.

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