It’s not uncommon to see a Berks County church hosting a food festival.
Throughout the year, you can find peach festivals, strawberry festivals, blueberry festivals, and more.
At the very least, just about every church will host a public dinner at some point throughout the year.
At Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, they just do things on a much larger scale.
Now in it’s 44th year, the Greek Food Bazaar is not your typical church function. Thousands of patrons walk through the doors of the three-day event, which is why some of the area’s largest corporations and businesses—including Redner’s Warehouse Markets, the Reading Fightin’ Phils and 69 News Berks Edition—are advertising in the 50-page program book.
And this year’s festival is larger than ever with the addition of an outdoor market and “Opa Tent” with plenty of space for dining and dancing.
Great food can be found throughout the church grounds, every room offering something different than the previous.
There is the Taverna, probably the most in-demand room in the building, where patrons enjoy traditional Greek tavern food, served with ouzo and wine. A gyro window serves a variety of sandwiches. Gyros and other appetizers were also available inside the Opa Tent. The kafeneio serves as an on-site coffee shop.
For hungry food bloggers, light fare and appetizers are just not enough. That’s why you will find me in the Estiatorio.
The church’s social hall is transformed into a sit-down restaurant where they are serving full dinner plates, like their Athenian chicken.
Served with rice pilaf (or pastitsio), salad cup, and green beans cooked in tomatoes, the half chicken is more barbecued than baked. The lightly salted skin is reminiscent of the chicken I had at Kauffman’s, but a little crispier and not quite as spicy. And the spices are more than skin deep (pun intended), giving the meat a nice flavor of its own.
The pilaf and green beans are the perfect compliments to the meat. The beans are swimming in a sweet tomato sauce that’s much thinner and sweeter than an Italian marinara, while the pilaf was the necessary starch that balanced it out.
I took my dinner into the Opa Tent where Julie was waiting with her spanakopita. The spinach and feta were mixed in bite size filo dough pockets and served atop a full pita. Even with the lightness of filo, it was heavy enough that the pita was unnecessary, and we ended up bringing most of it home with us.
Of course wherever there is a church festival, there are always desserts, and Sts. Constantine and Helen does not disappoint. A classroom is converted into the zaxaroplasteio, or Greek bakery.
On the whiteboard is a tally of all the baking done for this year’s bazaar: 3,840 baklava, 1,539 loaves of bread, and 7,080 twist cookies. At $2 each, we picked out five of their most appealing options: two floyeris, one baklava, one finikia, and one kataifa.
Greek pastries generally revolve around two ingredients: filo dough and honey. All but the finikia, which is a honey dipped cookie sprinkled with nuts, were made with the thin dough, while all were sweetened with the honey syrup.
The most unique of the four had to be the kataifi, a honey and walnut filled pastry that is made with shredded filo. Having only bought one, we had to cut it in half, at which point the honey began oozing out, leaving us with what looked like piles of angel hair pasta that was doused in gooey sweetness.
In all, we spent about $30 on food. The only thing we missed out on this year was the loukoumades, the church’s famous Greek honey balls. Every year, the deep fried, honey flavored dough balls are a big hit with the crowds. This year was no exception, and by the time we got to the window on Friday night, the day’s batch was already sold out.
That sounds like a good reason to return next year.