Grecian Fest in Wheeling Aims To Feed Body, Soul
WHEELING — The 20th iteration of the Grecian Food Festival will be making its return this week, with a streamlined system for feeding the hungry and an interest in sharing their Greek culture through the mind, soul and stomach.
Grecian Fest will set up shop Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily at Centre Market, near St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church. More than 30 different food options are on the menu this year, and festival manager Gus Kayafas said they’re spreading out their operations to get people’s food to them faster, and to keep crowding down.
“We have prepared for the same crowds as years past,” he said. “We did make some adjustments to our menu just because we felt we might not have the crowds, and we’re not having any indoor dining — it’s all outdoor this year. We brought in some extra tents, and we’ll have our indoor food line.”
Kayafas said that chicken, lamb and shish kebabs will not be available this year. However, he’s confident that people will still come and enjoy themselves with the wide variety of available foods and pastries, as well as wine, beer and other beverages, which have been given their own tent.
New this year is a kafenio, a Greek coffee house, where coffee, frappes, and baklava cheesecake will be available, alongside ladopsomo — olive oil bread.
“It’ll be in a very nice setting under the tent, a very nice taberna atmosphere,” Kayafas said. “We’ve pulled our beverages out of the taberna and given them their own tent across the street, to try to spread the crowds out a little more. We think it’ll flow better, and people will be able to get their food a little faster.
“We’re also going to have designated, express parking, so that if you’re coming and just want to pick up your food and go, we’ll have designated parking for you on the north side of the church.”
Returning this year is the “Fun with Filo” cooking demonstration at 2 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Maria Kayafas will be demonstrating how to make bougatsa, a traditional, and very popular, Greek dessert made with the most creamy custard wrapped in golden brown crispy filo, sprinkled with melted butter and garnished with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Grecian Fest is an opportunity for locals to come experience authentic Greek food and culture, and festival organizers hope that the memory of their culture is as enduring as the memory of their food.
“The culture is the food, and it’s our way of life, but this is really about the faith,” Gus Kayafas said. “We look at this as a ministry, more or less, because not only do the proceeds support the ministry, but we like to showcase our hospitality, our Greek Orthodox faith, which is very different from many other Christian denominations.”
Each day, Kayafas said, three church tours will be held, one focusing on the iconography of the church, one on Orthodox architecture and the significance of their layout, and one by the Rev. Demetrios Tsikouris on the substance of the Orthodox faith.
“His presentation is called ‘Feeding with meat, and not milk,’ which is going to touch on how Orthodox Christianity has a little more meat to chew on than milk,” Kayafas said. “It’s not watered-down Christianity. It’s full of rich history. We acknowledge the church fathers and saints that have all come before us, and what the historic, holy tradition means.
“It’ll be a good introduction to Orthodox Christianity,” he added. “… When you’re in the church proper, you really are escaping into another realm. That’s the idea, is to leave the world outside and become immersed in the scripture.”
Tsikouris’ presentation will be preceded by a Byzantine youth choir at 4:45 p.m. More than 50 Grecian dancers will perform nightly at 6 p.m., made up of local youths performing ethnic, exhibition dances in costume.
The day before the festival, Kayafas added, St. John the Divine will be holding its bimonthly ministry to feed the hungry, held on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Kayafas said any are welcome to come and be fed. The fare, he said, is gyros.
“That’s where we give back to the community, and we’d like to do more in the months and years to come, but that’s one way of giving back. The festival does go to help offset those costs.”