Two popular festivals are bringing Greek culture and mouth-watering cuisine to the area through Sunday.
“All of Northwest Indiana can be Greek for a weekend,” the Rev. Ted Poteres, priest at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral, said about the 48th annual Greek Festival taking place at 8000 Madison Place in Merrillville. “There’s plenty to go around.”
The festival opened Friday evening and the fun continues from noon to 11 p.m. today and Sunday with traditional Greek food and pastries, live music, Hellenic dancers, vendor shopping and bounce houses for the kiddies.
“We went away from the carnival this year. It’s a family-friendly event," Poteres said.
The grounds of St. George Hellenic Orthodox Church, 528 77th Ave. in Schererville, also bring Grecian traditions to The Region at the 37th Annual Greekfest from noon to 10 p.m. this weekend. This festival that began on Thursday features games, carnival rides, bingo, live entertainment and a beer garden.
“Greekfest is popular because of the music, the traditional dances and the food is number one,” said Andrew Eskfakis, parish president of St. George Hellenic Orthodox Church.
Both festivals raise funds for their parishes.
“This benefits the major repairs to the edifice,” Poteres said. “Just to replace the roof is a half-million dollar project.”
St. George’s Greekfest helps raise 35 percent of the church's operating budget, Eskfakis said.
On Friday evening, families and friends of all ages gathered at both festivals where admission and parking are free.
“I like the food the most,” said Lilli Fisher, 9, of Merrillville, as she entered the kids area at the Greek Festival, with her younger siblings 6-year-old Natalie and 4-year-old Patrick. “We’ve tried the calamari, gyros and Greek fries.”
The saganaki, a traditionally flaming cheese dish, was also a big hit with the family, said mom Emma Fisher. “They said ‘Opa’ but didn’t light it on fire,” she chuckled.
The Walker and Sopher families of Portage also savored the food at the Merrillville festival.
Elizabeth Walker said the Greek fries bring her back to the Sts. Constantine and Helen festival every year with her husband, John, and her mother Martha Sopher. of Portage. This was the first year dad Rollin Sopher attended and said he was looking forward to sampling the food.
“The Greek fries are thick with lemon and cheese on them,” said Elizabeth Walker while John said he especially enjoyed “the lamb and the adult beverages” at the beer and wine garden.
“I like the baked goods. They’re to die for, right?” said Martha Sopher as the families gathered around one of the round tables near the outdoor grilling area.
The two families also had a perfect spot to watch The Hellenic dancers and a performance by the band, Together.
In addition to food served on the festival grounds, Poteres said hundreds of pick-up orders of the popular Greek cuisine take place between noon and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Food and family activities also played a central role for those enjoying Greekfest at St. George Hellenic Orthodox Church in Schererville.
Hammond residents Jim and Irene Vrehas said they attend the festival every year.
“My mother worked for the church and taught Greek here for 35 years,” said Irene Vrehas about her late mother, Tula Bafaloukos.
This year, the couple brought their two granddaughters, Renee, 4, and Lia, 2 months, Vrehas, to the festival.
“The food is great. It’s a nice atmosphere with rides of the kids,” Irene Vrehas said. “Renee has been on the boat and the train. It’s nice that it keeps a 4-year old occupied.”
Vehicles lined up Friday for Greekfest’s drive-thru lane to order shish-kebabs, gyros and Greek chicken to go.
Workers start the charcoal fires at 3 a.m. and put the lambs on about 4 or 4:30 a.m., said Pedey Amanatidis.
“Everything is done by hand. It’s an assembly line,” he said.
“The success depends on older people with younger people following suit,” said Amanatidis of the multiple generations working at the drive-thru. “It’s passing on traditions.”