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Where Y’Eat: Greek Food, New Orleans Fun at a Community Festival

The goat burger at Greek Festival New Orleans
Greek Festival New Orleans
The goat burger at Greek Festival New Orleans

When it comes to festival food, there are events where the names of the restaurants taking part run close in local recognition with the headliners on stage. Hey it’s New Orleans.

But Greek Festival is different. The food here doesn’t come from vendors, but from a community. It's an expression of tradition and shared heritage that plays out through lamb roasting on spits, an emporium of handmade desserts and even some twists on tradition to the tune of pomegranate daiquiris and ouzo Jell-O shots. Again, it’s New Orleans.

Greek Festival is held over Memorial Day weekend along Bayou St. John on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Volunteers from the church and the larger local Greek community run the festival and prepare all the food.

With many of the key people in this food effort now in their 80s, passing on these tradition is an increasingly important dynamic for Greek Fest.

Roasted spring lambs are a centerpiece of the festival. Many of the volunteers on the lamb crew hail from small villages around Greece, where roasting a lamb in just this way is a major obsession, something akin to the way people in Louisiana pursue the crawfish boil.

Slow-cooked on the bone, marinated with olive oil, lemon, garlic and oregano, the meat comes off the spit juicy and bursting with flavor and it’s sold by the pound to eat at the event or bring home.

Food is always close at hand around the grounds. One returning Greek Fest favorite is the goat burger, back after a pandemic hiatus, and people always beeline for the baklava sundae, combining Greek tradition with ice cream fountain Americana.

The festival also transforms the church center all into a Greek food mart of sorts, with imported goods and a sprawling pastry operation, all made by the local families. You see people snacking on site and taking pastry boxes home to share, or maybe to horde.

Raise an ouzo cocktail or ouzo Jell-O shot, say “opa" to anyone you meet around the grounds, and perhaps Bayou St. John will feel just a little closer to the Aegean this weekend.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.