Restaurants provide the food for festivals all over town, but sometimes what really sets an event apart are the crews of volunteer home cooks who step up to contribute their talents.
That's the case at Greek Festival New Orleans (1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd., www.greekfestnola.com) May 25-27 along Bayou St. John. This is the 39th year for the festival, which is held on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and inside the Hellenic Cultural Center. The event raises money to support the church community year round, and as such it inspires a devoted effort from the church members who run the show.
Some of them will spend the festival weekend roasting 300 whole spring lambs, a featured food that is a centerpiece of the festival.
"Many of the people who cook the lambs are from Greece, from the small villages, and this is how they do their picnics and celebrations there," says festival chairman Ginny Zissis. "The way people in America do hamburgers and ribs for our cookouts, over in Greece they roast a lamb."
Marinated with olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs, the meat comes off the spit juicy and bursting with flavor. It's sold by the pound to eat at the event or take home for later.
In recent years, the church has added adjacent lots to expand its festival grounds, so now there's more room for the stage, dance floor, crafts tents and kids' activities — and food is always close at hand.
Booths around the grounds dispense gyros, calamari, souvlaki and loukoumades, which are like Greek beignets topped with honey and cinnamon. Goat burgers, which debuted at the festival last year, are back. In addition to beer and wine, you can wash all of this down with iced tea, sno-balls or daiquiris made with pomegranate, an ancient Greek symbol of prosperity.
The festival also transforms the Hellenic Cultural Center into a Greek food mart of sorts, with tables stocking edibles ranging from tubs of tzatziki to red caviar spread. This is where you'll find the festival's sprawling pastry operation, boasting about 20 different varieties of cakes, cookies and other sweets, all made by the local families who support Greek Festival.
Admission is $5 per day (children under 12 free), and on Sunday, May 27, anyone wearing a toga gets in free.