November 30, 2022

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Food loaded for bear

Opa! 63rd annual Memphis Greek Festival offers a taste of Greek food, culture

Opa! If you love Greek food, you need to put the Memphis Greek Festival on your to-do list this weekend.

The festival is May 20-21 at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 573 N. Highland St.

The festival features a variety of Greek food options, including spanakopita (spinach pie), gyros, souvlakia (pork tenderloin), moussaka (eggplant casserole), pastitsio (Greek lasagna), marinated lamb chops, baklava and more than a dozen Greek pastries. Each dish is handmade with love by a small army of volunteers.

For 63 years, the congregation of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church has shared its love for the Greek Orthodox faith, heritage, food, music and culture with the people of the Mid-South through this annual two-day event.

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This family-friendly festival includes activities such as live music, Athenian dance performances, sanctuary tours, a marketplace and bouncy houses.

But it’s the Greek fare that has many coming back year after year.

Madeleine Donnelly speaks with Lydia Mims as they prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Madeleine Donnelly speaks with Lydia Mims as they prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Community and camaraderie

Preparations start months in advance. They have to when more than10,000 attendees traditionally come out for the traditional Greek fare this event is known for.

The church hosts cooking workshops starting as early as January.

Volunteers prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Volunteers prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Dozens of trays of spanakopita, each yielding about 100 pieces, are baked on spanakopita days. On macaroon days, the kitchen smells of coconut. On the days when kourambiethes are baked, tables are lined with paper and the cookies are given two heavy coats of powdered sugar.

Basically, anything that can be frozen is prepped in advance.

It’s a labor of love that is instilled in family traditions and a sense of community.

Maria Moore has attended the festival every year since the first one. “I think I was 3 years old and in the crib when my parents started bringing me,” she said. “My mother and her ladies group were part of the group that started it.

Madeleine Donnelly puts spanakopita in the oven for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Madeleine Donnelly puts spanakopita in the oven for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

“For our culture, it’s a sense of family. My church family is my family,” Moore said. “It’s important to learn and pass on our recipes and our culture. I hope my grandkids and great grandkids remember — the things that my Yia-Yia passed down.”

Madeleine Donnelly has been attending the workshops since she was a young child. Decades later, she now runs the spanakopita workshop (that was also run by her own grandmother), using a recipe that was from the kitchen of her great-grandmother.

“It’s honor to be able to let everyone enjoy this taste of Greece,” she said.

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Marianthe Pilcher also has been attending the workshops since she was a little girl. “I was 10 or 11 when my mom started being me. I’ll be 60 next month,” she said. “Those of us not working full time try to come as much as we can. I enjoy being with the other ladies and the gentlemen.”

Lydia Mims, left, and Maria Moore, right, lay filo as they prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Lydia Mims, left, and Maria Moore, right, lay filo as they prepare spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Kyndall Moore started attending the workshops about five years ago with her mother-in-law. “I married in,” she said, explaining her family was not Greek. “I love coming to the pastry workshops. I come to as many as I can. I always learn something new, and my cooking always gets better. It’s fun to learn recipes I can pass down.”

Want to try your hand at cooking some of the dishes you enjoy? Pick up a copy of the church’s cookbook, “It’s Greek to Me,” at the festival.

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer.

Memphis Greek Festival

When: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 573 N. Highland St.

Admission: Free with three cans of food for the Mid-South Food Bank; otherwise, $3 for adults and children ages 6 and up. Free for children 5 and under.

For more information: memphisgreekfestival.com; 901-327-8177

Yolanda Matika spreads filling in a spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Yolanda Matika spreads filling in a spanakopita for the Memphis Greek Festival on Saturday, March, 2022, at at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis. The festival runs May 20-21, but food preparation began in January.

Memphis Greek Festival: 5 things to know

You don’t have to be Greek to enjoy Memphis Greek Festival. But you do need to know how best to enjoy the festival. Here are five things to know when planning your visit.

Dine in: Inside Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church‘s fellowship hall, attendees can enjoy a full meal, with options starting at $15. Guests will choose from Greek Lemon Chicken, Souvlakia or Lamb Chops. Each order comes with rice, Greek-style green beans and bread.

Drive-thru: If you don’t have time to attend the festival but still want to enjoy the authentic Greek fare, no worries. The Memphis Greek Festival has a drive-thru. Drive up Galloway along the north side of the church and a volunteer will take your order.

Don’t skip the sweets: The Greek pastry shop will be set up in the fellowship hall. More than a dozen traditional homemade Greek pastries will be served, including baklava, ergolavi (almond crescent cookies), indokarida (coconut macaroons), loaves of sweet bread and baklava cheesecake. Pre-pack pastries are also available to take sweets home. The week of the festival, volunteers will assemble more than 1,000 packs to be sold over the two days.

Under the big top: In the festival tent, dishes like gyros, pizza by the slice, baklava sundaes and loukoumades (lightly fried dough puffs with honey and cinnamon) will be available. Laura Couloubaritsis, who usually works the gyro stand, recommended trying the Greek pizza. It’s a white pizza with spinach, feta, tomatoes and olives.

More than just great food: Go for the food, but be sure to enjoy the Greek culture and community. Tours of the church, Athenian dance performers, live music and a marketplace featuring everything from Greek trinkets to Greek olive oil are just some of the activities to be enjoyed.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis Greek Festival: From food to entertainment, what to expect