Now in its 43rd year, Greek Fest is a mouth-watering feast for the senses happening Memorial Day weekend (May 27-29). Featuring Mediterranean staples like dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and lamb by the pound, alongside cultural mash-ups like feta fries and baklava sundaes, the food here is the star. But the lively festival also features Greek bands with plenty of dancing; a kids’ area with a rock-climbing wall and other activities; canoeing on the bayou; annual traditions like a raffle for $1,000 (a ticket is included with admission); Sunday night’s free admission for toga-wearers; and of course lots of wine and Ouzo. Gail Psilos, co-chair of the festival for the past 12 years, talks about this year’s fest. (Heads-up: like most of New Orleans, the area around Holy Trinity Cathedral is torn up from construction, so the festival will offer parking and shuttles from the former John F. Kennedy High School on Wisner Boulevard.)
How has the festival grown since you’ve been involved? We went from about 20,000 people over the weekend to anywhere to as many as 30,000 people who come through the gate.
Could you anticipate that the festival would be such a draw for all of New Orleans, beyond the Greek community? It was very much always a New Orleans event. It’s a cultural event –it’s always been that – and people have always come for the food. It’s what we’re known for.
We’ve expanded significantly. We have entertainment, the youth dancers dance inside … and we have church tours. Our cathedral is very beautiful; we have iconography on the ceiling and the walls. Our priest does tours and explains why the icons are where they are and talks a little about orthodox Christianity. There’s a grocery store at the festival where you can buy cheese by the pound, hors d’oeuvres, a bottle of wine and sit on the bayou and enjoy the music because we have a Greek band that’s playing outside. It’s really a great atmosphere. We meld our New Orleans and Greek culture together, and people really appreciate it.
Because people like food, drink and dancing …
Absolutely! The Greeks are known for wonderful parties, and so is New Orleans.
What are some of the new things at this year’s fest? This year we’re featuring grape leaves, everything grape leaves. There’s vegetarian grape leaves, rice stuffed grape leaves, meat stuffed grape leaves and this year we’re going to be featuring shrimp-stuffed grape leaves. They’re very healthy for you – the Mediterranean diet overall is a very healthy diet.
What your personal favorite aspects of the festival? The lamb. The lamb is outstanding. And the baklava sundae. Everything is wonderful. We have goat burgers that are extremely lean and juicy. Over the course of the weekend I’ll have one of everything, probably.
For more information on Greek Fest, visit GreekFestNola.com.