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Greek Food Festival at Oakmont church finds recipe for success

| Tuesday, June 24, 2014, 12:11 a.m.
Courtesy of the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church
Dancers at a previous Greek Food Festival in Oakmont.

When the Greek Food Festival at the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church in Oakmont started 40 years ago, the famous honey balls might have been a little more moist than they are now.

“We started when our church was very small and out of date,” said Mike Contes, a longtime volunteer with the festival.

“The women were cooking honey balls with umbrellas because the roof was so bad and was leaking.”

Fast forward four decades. What started as a small event used to raise money for the Oakmont church now serves more than 18,000 honey balls to more than 20,000 attendees.

The festival, which starts Friday and runs through Sunday at the church at 12 Washington Ave., now raises money for philanthropic organizations throughout the Pittsburgh region.

“Things have changed quite a bit — but things haven't changed a whole lot,” Contes said with a chuckle. “I know we've gotten more successful at feeding large groups of people. We have lines, but they move pretty fast.”

Of course, lines are to be expected for the fresh Greek delicacies served every day, such as lamb shank braised in a rich tomato wine sauce and the supremely popular spinach pie encrusted with a light filo dough crust.

“We've maintained the quality of food from the beginning,” Contes said. “This is the same menu we had when we started.

“Of course, there have been tweaks here and there, but it's good, homemade cooking,” he said. “Not quite as good as yaya (Greek for “grandmother”) can make, but close.”

Contes said dinners will be served nightly until 9 p.m., but for those who have that late-night craving, a grill on the church's patio will cook until 11 p.m.

“We'll have the very popular gyros there,” he said, “as well as Greek fries and some other things.”

If for some reason the food doesn't strike your fancy, Contes said there will be nightly entertainment.

“We're going to have two Greek bands playing authentic Bouzouki music,” he said. “And people seem to really enjoy the Greek dancers that perform.

“The children dancers put on quite a show.”

There's only one item patrons to the festival need to remember, Contes said.

“Bring your appetite,” he said. “We have something for everyone. “We're so appreciative of the people who come back every year, and we can't wait to see all the new faces, too.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter for Trib Total Media.

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