If it’s the last weekend in September, it must be time for — in the words of one enthusiastic festival fan — “Greek Christmas.”
The popular Ogden Greek Festival returns to town this weekend, offering Greek culture, Greek music, Greek dancing and — perhaps most importantly — more Greek food than you can shake a stick of souvlaki at.
Drew Wilson, co-chairman of the festival, says the Greek church in South Ogden opened in about 1964, and they’ve been feeding people ever since.
“Back then, it was not a festival, but they did have bake sales,” Wilson said. “So really, it’s been going since 1964, and it’s grown to the masses of food we produce now.”
The festival will take place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, at the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church, 674 42nd St., in South Ogden. Admission is free; a la carte foods, pastries and beverages range from $1 to $8.
But if you do plan on visiting the Greeks for lunch or dinner this weekend, be prepared for a bit of a wait. Even with two cafeteria-style serving lines, hungry diners snake out the door and around the side of the building. The wait for food can be an hour or more.
Drew Wilson, co-chairman of the festival, said the wait is the one drawback of the festival. In an attempt to mitigate that wait, Wilson says they tried increasing the number of food lines a couple of years ago.
It didn’t work.
“The problem was, we couldn’t cook enough food fast enough to keep three lines open — we just couldn’t,” he said.
One year, Wilson recalls trying to apologize to a woman at the festival for the long wait in line. She wouldn’t hear of it.
The woman told him: “This is Greek Christmas — you know when Christmas is coming, but you also know you have to wait for it. But once you’re there, then there’s all the sweets and all the goodies.
“It’s worth the wait,” the woman concluded, repeating for emphasis. “It’s worth the wait.”
Wilson says he used to feel bad about making folks wait. But the woman’s Greek Christmas analogy made him realize most patrons were understanding.
“And I thought, that’s right. It is worth the wait,” he said. “There’s just no way to speed it up any more. We just can’t put enough food out.”
Four years ago, organizers were putting on the festival with six ovens. Two years ago, they bought two more ovens.
“But we just can’t keep up,” Wilson said.
Although the festival opens at 10 a.m. both days, and continues until 10 p.m. Friday, it closes at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“And that’s because we run out of food,” Wilson explains. “Everybody always says, ‘You gotta make more food,’ but we have nowhere to put it. We have two big walk-in coolers and two walk-in freezers, and on the morning of the festival you can open all four doors and food is stacked high, right up to the door. There’s just no room for any more food.”
The numbers are impressive: The festival serves Greek food to nearly 10,000 people every year, according to Wilson. And that’s in just two days.
Wilson said they’ll go through 84 legs of lamb, 1,200 pounds of chicken souvlaki, 800 pounds of pork souvlaki, 50 cases of gyro meat, 12,000 stuff grape leaves, 4,500 cheese triangles, and about 2,400 spinach pies.
A la carte food items include lamb, gyros, pork and chicken souvlaki, chicken riganati, tiropitakia (feta cheese and eggs in filo triangles), dolmathes (ground beef, rice and herbs wrapped in a grape leaf), keftethes (meatballs in a tomato herb sauce), pilafi (rice with butter and lemon juice) and more.
Back this year, after a two-year absence, is spanakopita, a triangle-shaped filo pie with spinach, green onions and feta cheese.
“We stopped serving it after a big E. coli scare in spinach,” Wilson said. “It was a very expensive item to make anyways.”
And then, of course, there’s the dizzying array of Greek pastries up for grabs at the festival, including galactobouriko (custard between layers of filo, drizzled in syrup), kataifi (shredded filo dough stuffed with walnuts, almonds and spices and coated with syrup), kourambiethes (butter cookies covered with powdered sugar), baklava (layers of filo dough with crushed walnuts, almonds and spices, coated with syrup), and much more.
Greek scones dipped in honey and dusted with cinnamon, called loukoumathes, will also be for sale.
Greek-style and American coffee is available, as well as soft drinks.
Greek dancers will perform at 7 p.m. Friday and at noon Saturday at the festival. Also, the church will be open for self-guided tours, and the church’s priest and pastor, Father Patrick O’Rourke, will offer guided tours every two hours throughout the festival. A vespers service is planned for 8 p.m. Saturday.
Wilson says the annual Ogden Greek Festival is a fundraiser for the church.
“We have to pay our priest, and insurance for the building, things like that,” he said.
Plus which, the church donates a portion of the funds to local charities.
“So yes, it’s a fundraiser, but a lot of the money goes back into the community,” Wilson said.