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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Breaking News: Greek People Are Super Fun, Love To Hang Out & Eat Pork (This Week Only)

Here's a Hot Pork Tip (ayyyy) for anyone in or near downtown Brooklyn: the Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral Grecian Festival is on until Sunday, and it's worth hitting up.
Truth be told, NYC outdoor fairs usually suck because they: 1) have lousy, generic food; 2) are packed with morons wandering aimlessly down long traffic-blocking streets; and 3) don't serve liquor.

The good news? None of this applies to the Grecian Festival because it: 1) has terrific, unique food cooked by Michelle Tampakis (Pastry Arts Instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education) and a bevy of little old Greek ladies; 2) was packed with a warm mix of welcoming, hi-larious Greeks and local Brooklynites; and 3) serves alcohol (Greek wine, liquor, beer) at wholly reasonable prices ($3-$4).

Which is to say: the sign may have said “Festival,” but the whole affair felt more like Super Fun Mediterranean Party I Accidentally Stumbled Across. Which is actually what happened. I was running down Schermerhorn yesterday (true story) and smelled some pork grilling. I headed back later for lunch, and ended up returning for dinner as well. Because good people + good food + outdoors + catching buzz = my kind of Grecian formula. As to the food?
Do it Greek-style: pork souvlaki, ready for the eating

The smell that first caught my attention was none other than pork souvlaki. Some call souvlaki “The Hamburger of Greece”; I call it “delicious grilled meat stick with extra Slab appeal.” Juicy and moist. Marinated for a long time, with a seasoning that enhances (not overwhelms) the porkiness. By Zeus, I could eat this kind of thing all day. Especially stuffed in a fluffy pita ($6) and topped with a generous dose of their creamy, chunky, garlicky tsatsiki.
Platters with cheese: beef and eggplant moussaka (l) and spanikopita

But pace thyself; there is plenty more to be had. Head down the small alley (under the archway, next to the cathedral), and you'll see a row of tables (wo)manned by nice old Greek ladies and chipper young Greek students serving up heartfelt delicacies. We liked everything we tried starting with the unique dolmades (5 for 6$), aromatic beef-and-rice stuffing wrapped in tender grape leaves and washed in a terrific egg-and-lemon “avgolemono” sauce (a nice tart compliment to the savory filling). The tiropites (3 for 2$) were equally compelling, delicate buttery filo pastries stuffed with a creamy, salty blend of Greek cheeses. Nor did the main courses let us down. Platters of elegantly seasoned spanikopita and well-balanced moussaka (above, $8) had us thanking Hera's cow that these kind folks were sharing their home cooking.
Keepers of the Kourambiethes
The Loukoumades Ladies: Ms. Gavales and Ms. Apostolakos deliver delicious donut delight

Now whatever you do, save room for desert. Choices range from walnut baklava to galaktoboureko (honey-soaked filo stuffed with a creamy, lemony semolina custard). But good lord (wo)man don't leave without ordering the loukoumades. Because these Greek donuts (5 for $2) are so freakin' good. They are served fresh from the fryer, topped with a dash of powdered sugar and cinnamon and bathed in a honeyed syrup. Any self-respecting donut enthusiast out there should heed the word of the Slab: this is worth a serious detour.
Michelle Tampakis' daughter Sophia and friends/sous-chefs

As is the whole affair. These Greeks put the “festive” in festival, and their good cheer is wholly infectious. Everyone working is a volunteer, and everyone I met was associated with either the school, the cathedral, or both. Which makes sense. This community is close-knit and stretches back nearly a century – to the time when a small group of Spartan immigrants moved into an apartment on Hoyt Street in nearby Boerum Hill. In the 1920s they moved their church to Schermerhorn, and (in the 1960s) founded the Argyrios Fantis Parochial School. Soon after the community started an annual tradition: a Grecian Festival held during the first week of June, with food and drink, dancing and music, young and old alike getting down. It's a party over 40 years in the holding, and these folks do it right.

Which is to say: I really can't recommend this more strongly. It's still on thru the weekend, so try and make it down . They are spit-roasting a whole lamb on both Friday and Saturday, if that offers extra incentive (it should). And if not, they'll be doing it all again next year starting on the first Monday in June. Kali orexi, indeed.


The Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Brooklyn Annual Grecian Festival
Where: 64 Schermerhorn Street (betw. Boerum Place and Court Street), Downtown Brooklyn, 11201
When: June 2-8; Friday 11am-1am, Saturday 1pm-1am, Sunday noon-4pm
What else:
  • Kali orexi is the Greek “bon appetite” - it (also) literally means “good appetite.”
  • This affair takes a full month of food preparation: slow eats are good eats.
  • The “old timers” carefully guard their recipes. (From their own kids even.)
  • The Fantis school has 130 students; Greek language is part of the curriculum.
  • Michelle Tampakis and her daughters are looking to open a Greek wine and desert bar in Red Hook in the next few years, so stay tuned.

Labels:

7 Comments:

Blogger Ignatius Horatio Fitzbottom, Esq. said...

on your recommendation, my roommate and i dropped by for dinner tonight. indeed, the pork souvlaki was so delightfully tender, and the donuts were exceptional. i salute you, sir.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Thew said...

Olympian of Pork,

I know what I'm having for lunch tomorrow. Efharisto!

10:40 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

you guys are both Pork Titans.

and Fitzbottom - you make a strong case for "official legal counsel" here at The 'Chop. i'll keep you in the rolodex

2:37 PM  
Anonymous colleen said...

I know where I'm having dinner tomorrow! Good Greek food in BK--sweet!

3:00 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

colleen, i hear you - totally rare in the county of kings. i was talking to them about that very subject, they said even the communities in astoria are disappating - with families moving to the burbs, bayside & beyond

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the rec! the pork souvlaki was on the right side of incredible.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Empedocles Retreat said...

There's actually great Greek food in BK. I count... one, two, three... Well, at least three other excellent joints. If there was a way to just let Slab-o-philes in on this without letting "foodie" jerkoffs know and ruin it for everyone... I would. For now, let me just say seek and ye shall find... roast pig and other Aegean delights. Also for now, the more Greek the merrier!

2:58 PM  

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