Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's All Greek To Me

I devote a lot of my blog space to food. A decent amount of that space is given over to food or wine-related events - food strolls, wine festivals at Jonathan Edwards, chili/chowder fests at Ocean Beach, etc. I love these events (obviously - I work at JE and have been found on the recent stroll committees) but I truly believe that THE best eating event in New London is the St. Sophia Hellenic Orthodox Church Greek Food Festival.

The early dinner crowd at the St. Sophia Greek Food Festival

I mentioned the festival in the blog last year - but my brief post didn't do it justice. What I didn't mention was that I ate lunch there every day and dinner two of the four days. I'm already on track to meet or beat that record this year - it's day one and I had lunch and dinner there today.

For one week every November, St. Sophia operates essentially as a full-service restaurant, dishing up dish after dish of authentic Greek fare from 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM. No matter what time of day I've shown up, I've been greeted at the door by a (youngish-looking) priest that I assume (from reading the menu) is Fr. Dean Panagos. Fr. Dean is always cheerful (even when you see him at noon and again at 6:00 on the same day). He asks whether you'll be eating in or taking out, hands you your menu - with handy descriptions and pronunciations of the Greek dishes - and points you in the correct direction.

The festival is held in the big church hall. Large round tables fill the space. The hall has beautiful chandeliers and a mural along the back wall, where there is also a stage set up for the traditional Greek dancers. The food and bar are set up in an recessed area off to the side.

St. Sophia chandeliers


St. Sophia mural

St. Sophia runs an efficient operation - take-out orders are kept separate from dine-in orders. Take-out is ordered in one place and picked up in another. Dine-in customers go through a line where Greek women wait behind chafing dishes of green beans, potatoes, and dishes such as moussaka.

I have two methods of operation at the Greek festival: Lunch Mode and Dinner Mode. Lunch Mode is all gyro, all the time. I can not resist that combination of spicy meat, lettuce, tomato, and tzatziki sauce all wrapped up in a fresh pita. I don't even like thick salad dressings/mayonnaise/goopy sauces, but there is something about tzatziki that calls to me. It helps that it is not gooped on - just enough to add some flavor. (Of course, the base of good tzatziki is Greek yogurt, which I love for the thick texture and slightly sour taste, and I don't really like "other" yogurt.)

Dinner Mode is a little different. At dinner, I like to try the other specialties, such as the moussaka, the chicken oregano, and the pastitso. These entrees come in large portions, and often with a side of Greek-style green beans or potatoes, so it's best to come hungry.

Today, to inaugurate this year's festivities, I had my gyro for lunch with my work friends, then went back for dinner with Noe and Scott (AKA Dr. Chattybox). For my first dinner, I went with one of my personal favorites, the pastitso (otherwise known as Greek lasagana).

Side salad with pita

Pastitso with Greek-style green beans

Pastitso is a heavenly combination of layered ziti, beef, cheese, and Bechamel sauce. You can always taste the meat and cheese. Unlike lasagna, you run no risk of getting overpowered tomato sauce (which means your meat and cheese have to be extra-good). The St. Sophia pastitso has creamy cheese and fresh-tasting meat, and comes in a portion big enough to guarantee (for me, at least) that I'll have leftovers the next day.

Noe - normally a chicken oregano fan - went a different route tonight, choosing the stifatho (cubed beef with onions and seasonings, served over rice). Scott chose this as well. The onions looked like the little pearl cocktail onions. The dish was not entirely unlike adobo, but didn't have the pickly flavor of vinegar. I could not pick out the individual seasonings, but then again, I only got one bite - Noe and Scott inhaled this dish.


We were really too full for dessert, but that rarely stops anyone. The desserts, like all the food, are homemade by the ladies of St. Sophia. At lunch, my coworker Rosanne sprang for a box of assorted pastries that included baklava and my personal favorite, flogeres. Flogeres are pastry rolls filled with a chopped nut mixture and topped with honey, syrup, and spices. I taste what I think might be cinnamon and perhaps nutmeg (the bite is sharp enough). I'd take flogeres over baklava any day.

Noe and his ever-present love of rice of course chooses rice pudding over the pastries. Although rice pudding is not my favorite dessert, I do like it occasionally and in small doses. (This may sound weird, but I think of it kind of like oatmeal - it's cinnamon-y and kind of breakfast-like.) The St. Sophia rice pudding has a creamy texture and is served cold, which almost reminds me of cinnamon ice cream - not bad!

Noe and Scott enjoy their dinners

I'll be eating at St. Sophia's at least three more times this week, but I wanted to get this post out early so that hopefully anyone who may be on the fence about seeking out the Greek festival will do it. Have your big, fat Greek lunch or dinner - you won't be sorry!


Scott said...

Nice pic of me with face stuffed full of stifatho. Actually that was pretty representative of what I was up to. :)

Fiachra loves your blog! Is she your youngest reader?

Amy W. said...

Yes, I believe she is!