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McCandless church allows 'Taste of Greece' festival to expand offerings

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Volunteers from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in McCandless gathered in their new kitchen to prepare pans of spanakopita, or spinach pie, for the Taste of Greece festival from Aug. 28 to Sept. 1, 2013. They are (clockwise, from bottom left): Marianne Stearns, Carol Fiffas, Presvytera Becky Touloumes, Joyce Athanasiou, Vickie Bellios, Stacy Dickos, Paula Valliant and Julie Kritiotis.

This year's Taste of Greece festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church will rival earlier ones at the church's former location on Pittsburgh's North Side, organizers say.

For the past two years, the church's temporary site in a closed school in Ross Township could accommodate only a scaled-down version of the festival. That resulted in fewer food choices.

But from now through Sunday, the Greek culture is alive at the church's new home, 985 Providence Blvd., near the intersection of Babcock Boulevard and Cumberland Road in McCandless. The festival started yesterday, Wednesday.

“We want to make this the biggest, brightest and best we've ever done,” said Jerry Valliant, 56, a lifelong member of the church. As one of six chairpeople for the festival, Valliant, a Hampton resident, is counting on a big crowd. Organizers have increased quantities of ingredients for all traditional food favorites by about 60 percent, he said.

Valliant and more than 25 volunteers have been working for weeks preparing casseroles of pastitsio, a pasta dish; pans of dolmathes, or stuffed grape leaves; 250 pans of spanakopita, or spinach pie; 4,000 marinated-lamb shish kabobs and more.

All the prep work has taken place in the church's new state-of-the-art kitchen. On festival days, items will be grilled or baked and served.

Festival-goers can dine under big tents, which can seat 750 people. More casual food, such as smelts, calamari and gyros, will be served outdoors, while full dinners can be enjoyed in the new community center.

All the classic desserts are homemade from recipes that might go back to a baker's great-grandmother under the caring supervision of Joyce Athanasiou of Pittsburgh's North Side.

Valliant can vouch for the delicious sweets because he and the others get to “eat the mistakes.”

“I never get tired of pastries,” he said.

Athanasiou has helped with the baking for 20 years. This year, her crew of 25 to 30 narrowed their production time to six weeks. Once a week, the women take time slots between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

“This isn't counting the ladies who prepare the nuts, butter and syrup,” she said.

Galaktoboureko, a custard-filled phyllo pastry with powdered sugar, and 200 pans of baklava, to be cut into 16,000 pieces, have been made, and many other pastries will be available.

Loukoumades, fried puff dough topped with honey and cinnamon, will be made to order for each patron, as will the “baklava sundaes” made of soft-serve ice cream mixed with phyllo, nuts, honey and cinnamon and drizzled with chocolate fudge sauce.

While visitors dine, Greek musicians and dancers will entertain, and vendors and Greek nuns will have ethnic items for sale. The Rev. John Touloumes, pastor, and the Rev. Radu Bordeianu, assistant pastor, will lead tours of the church, which was dedicated June 22.

This is more than a fundraiser, said Valliant, excited to share the congregation's Greek heritage with those who visit.

“It's special for our church since it pulls the people together. You stand beside someone for hours, working vigorously, and great friendships are made. At the end of the day, you're all smiles.”

In addition to the good tastes and happy music, Valliant said, guests will enjoy a little “glendi,” the Greek word for good times.

“Our doors are open. Our arms are open,” he said, “and we're open for everyone to enjoy what we enjoy.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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