Original Greek Festival Returns to Houston in October with Great Food and Community Spirit
This year’s Original Greek Festival runs from October 4 through 7 on the grounds of the newly renovated Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 3511 Yoakum. It is an extravaganza of Greek food, music, dancing and culture. Tickets are $5 for adults and children 12 and under are free. On Friday, October 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. admission for all guests is free. Additional ticket information is available on the Original Greek Festival website.
One of the most popular features of the festival is the food. Vistors have ample opportunity to eat their fill of Hellenic favorites such as souvlaki, spanakopita and baklava. “The recipes are ones we’ve used for the last 50 years,”says Dana Kantalis, who is a member of the Original Greek Festival board. “These are our tried-and-true creations, and they represent what we think are great expressions of Greek cooking. These foods have become what so many people think of when they think about Greek and Greek-American cuisine.”
There’s the popular souvlaki, an $8 skewer of beef hunks marinated in a mixture of olive oil, spices and hints of lemon for 48 hours prior to the festival opening. The meat is skewered with onions and grilled on site. The pastitsio, a kind of Greek lasagna, is macaroni filled with beef and Romano cheese and topped with a rich, velvety béchamel sauce with hints of nutmeg. It is part of the popular $14 Greek dinner plate that also includes tiropita, a savory triangular pastry filled with cheese, a serving of spanakopita, a cousin of tiropita stuffed with spinach, spicy meatballs called keftedes, and a Greek salad. For dessert, there’s baklava, the flaky layered confection made with nuts, butter, nutmeg and cinnamon pressed between filo pastry and drizzled with honey ($2), finikia, a sweet honey cookie topped with pistachios ($2) and plump, doughy loukoumades, which are a like a combination of doughnut hole and funnel cake served fried, piping hot and drizzled with honey ($6). “There’s literally a guy standing back there, over this huge industrial mixer, making sure the dough for them is right,” said Kantalis. “It takes 1,300 pounds of flour to make them and this is the only festival in Houston where you can get them made hot and fresh right in front of you.”
There’s plenty of wine to go with all the sweet and savory delicacies; 900 cases, in fact. “The wines pair so well with food,” said Mike Koinis, who heads up the wines-by-the-bottle booth. “That’s what Greek wines were designed for. We’ve got a new white wine this year, the Boutari Orepdio. It’s excellent. The grape is Moschofilero, and it’s really crisp, a dry wine that’s going to be perfect with whatever people eat.” It will sell for $35 a bottle.
New for red wine lovers this year is the Boutari Naoussa, a bold Xinomavro that offers a bang of cedar and cocoa around a center of bright plum and blackberry for $35 per bottle. Emmaline’s sommelier Evan Turner, who’s made a mission out of sharing his love for Greek wines, calls it “one of the most underrated wines in the world today.”
Both Koinis and Kantalis take pride in the work they and their fellow volunteers do for the festival. “That’s the thing I love most about this,” said Kantalis. “It’s entirely volunteer-driven. From the people behind the scenes who deal with making the food and getting city permits, to the people in the booths, it’s a huge community effort.”
It’s also multi-generational, she said. It’s not unusual to have whole families involved the festival. Kids might be part of the Greek dancing demonstration while their parents are staffing the pastry booth and their grandparents are coordinating volunteer shifts.
It all adds up to four days of family friendly activities. There are dancing demonstrations every afternoon and evening, live Greek music, tours of the cathedral and a well-stocked Agora, or marketplace, where shoppers can find jewelry, books, packaged foods and a host of Greek items.
“We want everyone to come out and have a great time,” said Kantalis. “This festival is so much fun and we love showing off our heritage.”
The Original Greek Festival will be open Thursday, October 4 from 5 to 10 p.m.,Friday, October 5 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, October 6 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, October 7 from Noon to 6 p.m. Tickets for adults are $5 and children 12 and under are free. Pre-sale tickets are $25 and include one-day admission, one Dinner Plate, and choice of Souvlaki, Greek Salad, or Pastry Box (excludes Gyros). Contact the Parish Office for to purchase pre-sale tickets or for additional festival information at (713) 526-5377.
About the author: Holly Beretto writes about food, wine, the arts and interesting people for a variety of local publications, including Downtown magazine and Houstonia. Her work has appeared in Arts + Culture Texas, Santa Clara magazine, Maui No Ka Oi, PRIME Living and the Arizona State University and St. Paul’s School alumni magazines. She is the editor of Pierce, the magazine of Franklin Pierce University and the author of Christ as the Cornerstone: Fifty Years of Worship at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, published by Bright Sky Press. Originally from Rhode Island, she lives in Houston with her husband Mark Love.