This past summer would have marked the 47th year that the Santa Barbara Greek Festival elevated our understanding of moussaka, souvlaki, Metaxa, and other specialties of that ancient land and its thriving culture.
But the pandemic thwarted such delicious fun at Oak Park, thereby gutting the primary fundraiser for Saint Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church. With roots stretching back to the early 1930s, when Greek immigrants gathered in a small chapel of Trinity Episcopal and taught Greek in a room at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, the community incorporated as a parish in 1947, built its first church at 1125 Castillo Street in 1950, and then moved to a new facility in the foothills above Tucker’s Grove Park in 1986.
“Our church is a very beautiful place, with olive trees and rolling hills, and we get a lot of people in the community who just go walking around up there,” said festival co-chair Nicole Botaitis, explaining that the parish includes about 200 families. “We’ve got a small but strong community. We are really close and welcoming.”
In that same spirit of the fest — but properly attuned to social distancing standards — the parish is raising money by preparing and selling meals of gyro, baklava, dolma, spanakopita, and a lentil soup called faki. They’re taking orders via greekgrabgo.com until Sunday, October 25, and then supporters will drive to the church to pick up the food at a designated time on November 7 or 8.
“It will be a quick turnaround so everyone feels safe,” said Botaitis, whose father emigrated from Greece to the Bay Area when he was 19 years old. “They can get their food, take it home, and enjoy with whoever they’d like.”
Like many Greeks, this food is close to her heart, due in large part to annual trips to visit her father’s homeland. “Spanakopita is a homemade recipe that gets passed down,” she explained, reminiscing about the warm smell that the triangular spinach pies produce when freshly baked. “There’s nothing better than getting those in the cafés.”
Her fondest gyro memories involve clubbing in the country when she was younger. “I can definitely remember my brother and I in our 20s, finishing dancing at 3 in the morning, and then you go get your gyros,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of getting a slice of pizza.”
But you needn’t opt for a meat-filled pita to fill your belly on Greek cuisine. The lentil soup faki can handle that task quite well. “A lot of people think meat with Greeks, but Greeks eat a lot of food that’s vegetarian or vegan because there are so many days of the year that they’re fasting,” said Botaitis, who works by day as the clinical director of the Good Heart Recovery, a substance-abuse treatment center. “And it goes back to that Mediterranean diet of healthy food.”
For dessert, there’s a passionate cohort of women parishioners who will be making baklava from scratch, like they do every year. “This is homemade, pressed layer by layer,” explained Botaitis. Some members of the community recall doing so for the first Greek Festival in 1973, a picnic-style event held at Earl Warren.
For Gyros Galore! Greek Grab-Go, as the fundraiser is officially called, the church aimed to keep prices low, if only to offset the short drive it requires to pick up the food. Single gyros, with spiced/grilled meat, tomato, onion, and tangy tzatziki sauce in a pita, are $8; four are $30. A large spanakopita or four dolmas are $4, the faki with pita is $5, and four pieces of baklava are $8. But the grande platter is clearly the best move: gyro ingredients for four, eight dolmas, and four spanakopita for just $50. And for those seeking to make these dishes at home, the church’s family recipe book The Greek Feast is $10.
Said Botaitis, “We wanted to make it affordable and accessible.”
Support St. Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church and enjoy authentic cuisine on November 7 or 8 by placing your order by Sunday, October 25 via greekgrabgo.com.
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