Opa! With the beloved Greek Festival New Orleans held this Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, it’s time for people in New Orleans to go Greek and trade their hamburgers for goatburgers, hot dogs for gyro sandwiches and American cheese for fresh feta. This annual celebration of Greek culture on Bayou St. John comes complete with hummus and ouzo, Hellenic dancers, Greek music, a toga contest and more.
What makes this fest so special, co-chair Gail Psilos says, is its fusion of both New Orleans and Greek cultures. They’ve got the big things in common — both cultures love their food, music and parties. Bring those together and New Orleans gets a can’t-miss early summer festival.
Greek Festival New Orleans
Psilos says this year the food focus is on “feta, feta and more feta.” There’s grilled chicken with feta pepper sauce, feta fries, spinach and feta triangles and calamari topped with feta. And if that’s not enough, feta will also be for sale by the pound.
But don’t worry if you’re not feeling the feta. There are plenty of other options for you, such as slow-roasted rotisserie lamb or souvlaki (pork, chicken or lamb) served with pita. And don’t forget about the delicious Greek pastries; step up your baklava game with the Baklava Sundae, which adds soft-serve yogurt, nuts and a cherry to the traditional pastry.
We recommend getting the traditional Greek dinner, which Psilos says is one of the festival’s biggest hits. It’s offered every day of the festival and gives you a little taste of everything. The dinner includes tiropita, pastitsio, meatballs, and Greek salad with dolma. There’s also a vegetarian-friendly version.
With the Mediterranean diet’s focus on roasting and baking rather than frying, Greek Fest’s cuisine is surely in the top tier of New Orleans’ healthiest festivals. Be sure to note that healthy does not mean the food isn’t rich and aromatic. Like NOLA locals, Greeks also love their seasonings. There will be Greek spices for sale all weekend at the festival’s grocery.
To quench your thirst, point toward the pomegranate. The Greek symbol of abundance and good luck is now a festival favorite, as it’s served in iced tea, snowball and daiquiri form. Pomegranate daiquiris have got to be a sure sign of Greek and New Orleans cultural mingling.
There’s a lot going on at Greek Fest, and like any New Orleans festival, live music is a necessity. Kostas Kastanis will bring the Greek jams, with Hellenic dancers demonstrating how to get down with traditional Greek dancing.
Be sure to take a guided tour of the cathedral while you’re at the fest. The gorgeous church is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary and is proud to be the first Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas.
Kicking off the festival Friday evening will be the 1-mile and 5K races. The 1-mile begins at 7 p.m. and the 5K starts 20 minutes later. You can register at the festival or online. Canoes will be available for rent all weekend for those who want to soak in the bayou at a slower pace. A 24-foot high rock wall will be begging visitors to climb “Mount Olympus,” and there will be inflatables and face painting for the little ones.
Greek Fest is sure to keep the whole family busy!
Greek Fest will be held at the Holy Trinity Cathedral at the corner of Robert E. Lee and St. Bernard Avenue. The festival will run from 5-11 p.m Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. There’s a $5 admission fee, and children under 12 get in free. But along with your $5 entry fee, you’re entered into a raffle for a chance to win $1,000 — not a bad investment. Oh, and if you wear a (tightly tied) toga on Sunday, you’ll get in for free.
Free parking will be provided at John F. Kennedy High School, and the festival offers a shuttle that will bring you back and forth between the parking site and festival grounds.