The Greek Festival New Orleans (May 24-26; www.greekfestnola.com) marks its 40th anniversary (dubbed "the big 4-Opa") at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral (1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd.) on Bayou St. John. Around the grounds attendees can find gyros, souvlaki, goat burgers and spit-roasted lamb, and there's an indoor Greek food market stocking everything from tubs of tzatziki to a sprawling array of handmade pastries. Daily admission is $5 (children under 12 free), and on Sunday, anyone wearing a toga gets in free. Ginny Zissis has been involved with the Greek Festival since its inception and has served as chair for the past 15 years.
What's it like preparing food for this festival?
Zissis: It's something that brings in the whole community. The Greek community is small here, but it's very old and we're very proud of it. We start in January with workshops twice a week. Maybe 30 to 50 people will come out each time to make pastries, make our dips, hand roll our dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). We get people outside the Greek community, too, who want to help. It's very social. You walk in and you see all of your friends, like an extension of your family, and that goes every week until the festival.
Rotisserie lamb is a centerpiece of the festival. Why is it such a big deal?
Z: It's the very traditional way we do it. Back in Greece, every family would have lamb on a spit for any celebration. It's like crawfish boils over here, that's how common it is. For the festival, we get whole spring lambs, we cut them ourselves and marinate them overnight. More people are eating lamb now, but this is different. People think about eating lamb chops with mint jelly, like they're in England. Do not even suggest that to a Greek person. That would be like putting mint jelly on a beignet.
For people visiting for the first time, what's some inside scoop?
Z: Get a bottle of wine and take it to the edge of the bayou. You have some Greek wine, the water flowing by, at night maybe the stars are out, you can feel like you're on a Greek island. Where else can you do that? — IAN MCNULTY