In the ethnic and cultural melting pot that is south Louisiana, the first background that comes to mind probably isn’t Greek. But, for the third consecutive year, Greece is the word in Baton Rouge.
The Baton Rouge Greek Festival Saturday at the Belle of Baton Rouge Atrium will be a celebration of the Mediterranean nation’s food, music, dance and crafts.
Especially the food, said festival chairman Jimmy Burland.
“They’ve told me over and over it’s the food and the pastries that are big hits, big sellers, mostly because we cook it ourselves,” Burland said of the annual festival, which Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge began in 2012. “The ladies make most of the pastries. … People just say the food is good, and the entertainment is on top of that. It’s just so culturally different with the food and the pastries and some of the things that are offered that you don’t see in other festivals. Of course, the main thing is to raise money for charity.”
Food is always a good way to get people interested in local festivals, and although the Greek community is a small one, there is no shortage of Mediterranean restaurants in the Baton Rouge area, something Burland has noticed after growing up in Houston and New Orleans. That familiarity with this cuisine helps the festival, Burland said.
The menu will feature gyros and chicken sandwiches and plates, grilled lamb, Greek salads (with or without meat), a variety of side dishes that include stuffed grape leaves, Greek fries (with creamy feta cheese sauce), loukoumades (doughnuts topped with cinnamon and honey), baklava and more.
“The gyros sandwich, which is as Lebanese as it is Greek, a lot of people are familiar with that type sandwich, so we sell a lot of it,” he said. “But I think the real kicker is the lamb. There’s no place you can really get grilled lamb. … I think the lamb is really the unique part of what we do. There’s no other festival I know of but the other Greek festivals.”
Since admission is $1, or free with a non-perishable food donation, it’s delicacies like these and pastries like baklava that raise the money for charity, but the festival is more than a feeding frenzy. The entertainment includes music by the Alpha Omega Sound of Atlanta, the New Orleans Holy Trinity Orthodox Church Greek Dancers and the Baton Rouge Belly Dancers Association. In addition to watching, audience members are encouraged to join in learning the dances themselves.
The inaugural Greek Festival was held outdoors, but rain shortened it and held attendance to no more than 1,000. Moving to the Belle Atrium last year, the festival more than tripled its attendance, and Burland expects that number to go up again.
“We’re doubling our lamb order, so that’s a good thing,” he said.