Opa! The Memorial Day Weekend is coming soon. It’s all Greek to us, but Suzanne Corbett shares traditions of a Greek Festival in St. Louis.
By Suzanne Corbett
Pork steaks are going to share the plate with gryos. Why? Tradition.
It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kick-off to summer. In St. Louis, it’s celebrated with baseball, barbecue, and Greek food. Greek food?
A St. Louis Memorial Day tradition, celebrated for decades at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in West St. Louis County continues. The volunteer cooks have been cooking for months preparing for the church’s annual Greekfest.
“We have a core of volunteers who love to cook, said Greg Simos, Greekfest chairman, who during the rest of the year is a graphic designer teacher, and loves his four day stint of being a restaurateur during the festival. As the Greekfest’s point man, Simos arranges for all the things the cooks and volunteers need to produce the annual four day food festival, which will again be presented as a curbside event.
“We are as authentic as you can get,” he said. “Everything is homemade by our volunteer cooks of which many are immigrants from Greece or first generation, who brought their recipes with them.”
Assumption’s Greek Orthodox Church located at 1755 Des Peres Road, Town and Country, is its fourth location since its founding 81 years ago. It is renowned throughout the community for its food festivals and Friday lunches, which began as a means to fund the building of its Basilica that is adjacent to the church’s hall and kitchen.
“We’ve been a church for 81 years. Our first location was on Euclid, but we’ve been here since the 1980s,” said Diane Sieckmann, church administrator and dedicated volunteer. “Back then, we use to have church in the hall before we finished the Basilica in 1990. You have to see the Iconography, which is amazing. It was all done in Greece and brought here.”
As a way to raise funds to pay for the church, a group of loyal cooks got busy, offering lunches and cooking for the churches festivals. After hundreds of thousands of Friday Greek lunches cooked and served along with proceeds from the annual Memorial Day festivals, the Basilica was paid. With the church paid off, and after the pandemic shutdown, it was decided to end Assumption’s Friday Greek lunches. But don’t fret. According to Simos there will be opportunities to come and get your Greek food fix, beginning this weekend, which runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Monday.
“We’re planning on replacing the Friday lunches with a three day mini festival,” Simos said. “Maybe we will do a couple of more special events to supplement those looking for their Greek food fix. But for now, it’s Greekfest, which starts Friday at 11 a.m. Just place your order online and pick up your food curbside. Just like we did during the fall festival.
Online orders can be made at stlgreekfest.com. It’s simple. Just fill out your order and the time and day for pick-up.
“We’ll have as much ambiance in the parking lot as we can. At certain points throughout the day we’ll have Greek music, and we’ll have our dancers in their costumes,” said Simos, noting the importance of sharing their Greek culture with the community. “ We work every day to keep our culture and to share what we have here with the community. It’s what our festivals are all about. A way to connect, share our culture, and, of course, offer the opportunity to enjoy our food.”
Simos confirmed that running the event curbside, while offering a slightly slimmed down menu than the usual festival, will still have everyone’s favorites, which include gyros, souvlaki (shish-ke-bob) spanakopita, pastitsio and all those wonderful desserts. Here’s a tip, opt for the variety pastry box, which includes baklava (shown left), kataifi and a few other sweet surprises. Otherwise, order one of everything and enjoy a bodacious, big fat Greekfest at home. To make sure you’ll have all your favorites, order now. Orders now accepted online at StlGreekFest.com. throughout the weekend.
Kourabiedes are the decadently delicious walnut spice cookies drenched with powdered sugar. An easy recipe, perfect to bake to get your Greek fix on between festivals, and is generously shared by Assumption’s Greek Orthodox Church’s cooks. It’s a recipe, which is also featured along with many classic Greek dishes in the Assumption church cookbook.
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons almond extract or vanilla
2 tablespoon amaretto, brandy, ouzo, or whiskey
¾ cups finely chopped walnuts
6 cups all-purpose flour, enough to form soft dough
Powdered sugar for sprinkling
Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat well. Add eggs, almond extract of vanilla, liquor. Mix well.
Add nuts, stir in by hand with flour until dough is soft and pliable. Shape into desired shaped and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake at 350 until golden in color 12-15 mins. Remove from oven and cover with powdered sugar while cookies are still hot.