ORANGE >> There was traditional dance, a magic show, white elephant sale, cooking demonstrations and plenty of other entertainment at the Odyssey Greek Festival this weekend, but at the heart of it all were the fabulous ethnic foods the event has become known for: lamb cooked on a spit; souvlaki, moussaka, pastitsio and tempting desserts like baklava.
The festival, the church’s biggest fundraiser — and about a year in planning — will continue on Labor Day from noon to 8 p.m., rain or shine. There is lots of indoor seating where Greek cooking products are for sale, crafts, jewelry and several rooms of the popular Treasures ‘n Junque tag sale.
Gene Esares, one of about 300 volunteers who make the event happen each year at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church on Racebrook Road, said he’s seen people leave with 12 meals to go and the lamb on the spit is so popular that tickets are sold in advance; people also love to watch it cook.
“It’s not something you’re going to get every day for these prices,” Esares said of the food, priced reasonably, he said because the labor is volunteer.
Helen Wachter, who’s in charge of the volunteer baking team, said they make over 28,000 pieces of pastry, including kataifi, galaktoboureko, revani, and the most popular, baklava, 22 layers of flaky filo dough, crushed walnuts, butter and honey. Wachter said she loves how the festival brings so many people together, including inside the St. Barbara church community, to make it all happen.
Helen Wachter’s husband, Michael Wachter, co-chair of the festival with two others for several years as well as sole chair for a long stretch previous, said, “It’s a great feeling when the place is packed and everyone’s having a good time … It’s our culture, it’s our friendships, it’s our love for the church.”
Micah Adams, there with his wife, Sandy, and their three young children, said the fest has become a family tradition and signals the beginning of the school year.
“We’re not Greek, but we are today,” he said, “The food is so good, we usually come twice on the long weekend.”
James Fortunato said the festival is a place where he always runs into old friends and leaves feeling happy, as well as full.
Esares said the popular traditional Greek dancing in authentic garb is “energetic” and “contagious” and it’s wonderful to see people of all ages come together and perform.
“We take joy in seeing young people adopt their culture and it gives us all hope when we see young people reflecting good values,” he said.
Organizers said about 20,000 people typically attend the four-day festival.