TR Robertson- It was a little overcast along the coast this past weekend, but this did not stop thousands of visitors from passing through the entrance to the Cardiff Greek Festival held on the grounds of Saint Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church on Saturday and Sunday. This annual event features vendors selling jewelry, Grecian Soap, Olive Tree products, a Greek marketplace, Greek clothing, Greek music and dancing and much more. But the most popular thing at the Greek Festival is the Greek food. Unbelievable food of all types, tastes and smells. The food is so good no one minds standing in the long lines that form to purchase whatever is on sale at the particular tent they are in front of.
The Greek Festival is held on the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cardiff-by-the-Sea and the parking is more than adequate as the church is adjacent to Mira Costa Community College in Cardiff and their large parking lot. Entrance to the festival is the most reasonable festival price around, a mere $3.00. My wife and I usually arrive early to the Greek Festival always trying to get there close to the 10 am opening. As you go through the entrance you always pass by the Greek Orthodox Church on your right, and the vendors tents on the left. More on the church later. We stopped at several of the vendors after entering to see what new items were being sold this year. There are always some amazing jewelry vendors at the festival. This year Bohemian silver, Gemworks, and Shakeels Concept were several of the companies displaying their work. Shakeels had some unusual designs using Murano Italian Glass. Gemworks is from Carlsbad.
Also in the vendor area was Holy Branch of Olive featuring “Products awesomely made in the Holy Land”. All of the products are made from olive wood and are beautifully designed. Owner Nader Habash told me this is the only store of this type in all of California. Their main location is in Redondo Beach. There was an assortment of manger scenes of varying sizes, all from Israel, as well as other designs made from olive wood. Their web site, www.holybranch.com , is being reconstructed but will soon be up and running. We were fortunate to have traveled to Israel last year and stopped in a huge olive wood store in Bethlehem.
Another popular stop for many of the people attending was the Greek Deli Marketplace where you could purchase a wide range of items used in Greek cooking. Carolyn stopped by the Grecian Soap Company tent to pick up some gift items made from Goats Milk and Olive Oil. At the end of the line of vendor tents was a Wine Tasting tent that became a very popular spot later in the day. This tent was run by Micharl Pavlidis from Boukali Speciality Wine Import & Wholesale. All of the wines people would be tasting came from Greece.
The vendors tents were a popular stop, but mostly after those attending had first stopped to try a selection of Greek foods on sale the row over from the vendors. Volunteers and members of the Orthodox church worked at the food tents. We were fortunate to have arrived early as the lines would grow and grow later in the day with attendees stopping for a Greek lunch or early dinner. Our first stop is always the tent selling Tiropita, a triangular phyllo pastry item filled with cheese. This booth also sold Spanakopita, pastry item with cheese and spinach. While Carolyn waited, I made it over to the tent selling Gyros. These delicious items are warm pita bread filled with Gyro meat, usually lamb, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce. We typically share one of these. The tent next to the Gyro tent was selling Souvlaki (marinated grilled kebab of either pork or chicken), Loukaniko (handmade Greek Sausage) and Feta Fries. The line for this tent was very long and stayed long all day. I also saw a number of people with small paper trays of Loukoumades, Greek donuts with drizzles of honey, cinnamon and nuts. These are delicious and addictive. Heading back to the table with the Gyro I stopped by the large tent set up to sell Cokes, Water, and a variety of Beer. Since it was a Greek Festival, I had to have Mythos, a Greek beer. While we ate at our table the line to purchase a variety of Greek food at the Greek Cusina Restaurant Tent grew and grew.
At the Greek Cusina Restaurant Tent people could choose, cafeteria style, different Greek foods that would be put in plastic trays. Some people were getting the food to eat at the festival and some to go to eat later. The choices of food to choose from included Lamb Shank, Roasted Greek Lemon Chicken, Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna – macaroni, meat and cheese with bechamel sauce), Spanakopita, Fasolakia (Green beans in tomatoa sauce), Dolmathes (Grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), Pilafi (Greek baked rice) and Salata (Greek salad with Feta cheese, Kalamata olives and Greek Dressing). This line also stayed long the entire day. Next to the eating area there was a dance floor set-up and a small stage where the Olympians Band played traditional Greek music and free Greek dance lessons were given.
After our lunch we decided to take the tour/presentation of the Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church and see the beautiful Byzantine Art reproductions in the church interior. Next to the church was a Kids Zone set-up with lots of bouncy apparatus. Outside of the church entrance was a Church Bookstore on one side and a tent with examples of traditional Greek men and women’s clothing worn during festivals and at special events. There are three tours on each day of the festival with an average of around 150 people on each tour. The inside of the church is spectacular. A short presentation by a church volunteer and a longer presentation by Father Michael Sitaras talked about the church and the history of the Greek Orthodox religion. This is one of the oldest religions still in existence today, dating back to 33 AD. This Greek Orthodox Church had a groundbreaking ceremony in 1982. People visiting the church are awe struck by the beautiful mosaics and the majestic thirty-foot diameter dome. One feature that appears on sunny days on the outside of the golden dome is the appearance of a cross on the western side of the dome.
After the tour of the church, our final stop at the Greek Festival was located across from the food vendor tents. This was another popular stop at the Greek Festival, the building housing the volunteers selling the Greek Pasteries and Kafenio. Many people stop in at the Greek Festival to just purchase pastry items to take home. The items are a little pricey so you have to be careful, or you can rack-up a sizable bill. Carolyn and I always get several Kourambiethes (butter cookies covered in powdered sugar), Almond Cresent butter cookies, and Baklava (phyllo pastry, butter, walnuts, and honey syrup). There were many more items we could have purchased such as Saragli (rolled honey nut pastry), Melomakarona (spice cookies topped with honey syrup and walnuts), Thiples (deep-fried thin dough covered with honey and nuts), Karydopita (spice walnut honey cake topped with nuts), and much more. As you can tell honey and nuts play a big roll in Greek desserts. There were many people also trying Kafenio, Greek Coffee. Greek Coffee is very, very strong. You can get it with milk and/or sugar, but the preferred Greek way is black.
If you have never been to the Greek Festival in Cardiff, you have got to go. If you like Greek Food or have always wanted to try Greek Food, you have got to go even if you only want dessert items. The Greek Festival is always on the first weekend in September, so mark it on you calendar. Everyone is also invited to attend at any time the Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, regardless of your religious affiliation. The church is located at 3459 Manchester, just off the Highway 5 Freeway, in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. If you didn’t make it this year, don’t miss it next year (one recommendation – don’t eat breakfast the day you attend).