Any reason to take Route 542 through the Pines and the farms of South Jersey is worth it. And when the end result of the ninety minute trip is a Greek festival, all the better.
Such was the opportunity I had on Sunday with my son, and we took the long, winding and very pretty trip down from southern Ocean County to Vineland. St Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Church was holding its annual Greek Festival, and Sunday was the last day. I have always wanted to get to a Greek festival, but had not had the opportunity – so I was eager to finally make it to one. Upon getting onto the grounds, my first impression was that there didn’t seem to be a huge mob of people around. The fact that it was the 4th day of their festival, plus the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend, probably had something to do with it.
The grounds were divided into two areas: the kiddie ride area and the food and crafts area. We headed for the rides first, of course – after all, the boy did have to endure a long car ride. And after one ride on the Dizzy Dragons, I wasn’t about to eat anything anytime soon, so that gave my son time to check out the fun house as well as fire engine ride.
When my appetite returned, it was time to check out what was on the menu. There were three areas for food: a gyro and Greek pizza tent, the main tent with special platters and a bar, and a pastry tent. Being recently unemployed and trying not to spend too much, I opted for a gyro. While it would have been nice top indulge a bit more, I was not disappointed in my choice. Spicy lamb sliced off a spit, with plenty of tzaziki sauce, garnished with onion and tomato, on nicely toasted pita bread. Yum.
Arriving later in the afternoon had one definite advantage: we were able to watch some traditional dances performed by the Hellenic Pride Dancers.
There was one indulgence that I was not going to pass up, and that was sampling the yummy things being served at the pastry tent. Here is where I want to offer a bit of advice to you: if you’re ever at an ethnic festival, and you don’t know which food tent to try, go for the one where you have older ladies serving – especially if it sounds like English is their second language. You can be pretty much guaranteed that not only will everything served there be homemade but will be made with love. And the banter between with the women serving the pastries made me wish that I could just hang out there and enjoy the lively chat, getting fat in the process. But I had my son with me, so that idea went out the window quickly.
So the next best thing was to bring home a nice sampling of their pastries: kourabiedes (sugared butter cookies), melomakarona (spiced cookies dipped in honey), galaktoboureko (fillo dough stuffed with custard, shaped like a burrito), and of course some baklava (fillo dough layered with butter and honey). My son and I sampled the cookies, and oh yes!, I had chosen wisely.
Armed with pastries, we headed home, back through the farmland and pine forests that make South Jersey such a beautiful place. And at home I found my poor Lisa, unable to go because of a bad cold that was dragging her down. After tasting some of the pastry goodness, though, she gave me that smile that one gets when food made with love tickles their taste buds – another beautiful sight.