Opa! Greek festival is here

Published 10:58 am Monday, September 19, 2011

Parishioners of the Greek Orthodox church work to create 13,000 pieces of baklava for the Greek festival. (Reporter photo/Jon Goering)


BIRMINGHAM – Parishioners of Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham worked feverishly to prepare for the 39th Annual Greek Festival during one of the many pastry workshops Sept. 14.

As the only Greek Orthodox church in the area, residents of Shelby County travel into Birmingham to worship and participate in the Greek-based community.

Louise Gerontakis, who owns a farm in Harpersville, carefully placed layer after layer of fresh phyllo dough into a cookie sheet to make baklava. During the five days of the baklava workshop, the church parishioners will make 13,000 pieces of baklava to sell at the festival.

As she worked, Gerontakis explained how she was making baklava. She placed eight layers of phyllo dough into the cookie sheet, brushing melted butter between each layer. Then, she sprinkled ground pecans in the middle layers, and completed the pastry by adding eight more layers on the top. Her favorite Greek dessert, however, is the melomakarona or “melo” cookies, which are honey and nut cookies topped with chopped pecans.

“In Greece, they can make the whole thing (including the phyllo dough), which they did in the old days,” Gerontakis said.

Inverness resident Elaine Lyda, the public relations consultant for the festival and parishioner of the church, said the pastry-making process hasn’t changed in the past 39 years.

“We make all the pastries from scratch,” Lyda said. “We use fresh phyllo, never frozen. It’s stayed the same for 39 years.”

Lyda said the Greek festival is perfect for families to attend or for tailgaters to drive through and pick up Greek food for football parties. In addition to a variety of pastries, the menu will offer Greek chicken, souvlakia, pastichio, gyro sandwiches, Greek salads and more.

“It’s free admission, parking and entertainment. We’ll have a Greek band and dancers,” she said. “It’s a family cultural event with a marketplace that will have jewelry and paintings. We’re also offering tours of the cathedral.

“We close the streets at night. People can drive through and give us their orders,” she added. “It brings the church community together. People from all over come to enjoy the festival.”

The Greek Festival, which is located at 307 19th St. South, Birmingham, will run from Sept. 29-Oct. 1 from 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. For more information, call 716-3088 or visit Bhamgreekfestival.org.