Huntington goes Greek

For those who went to the Greek Festival this weekend, the surroundings may have looked like Huntington, but the air carried the music and aroma of Greece. In the souvlaki booth, whole lambs roasted on a spit over a charcoal fire, their scent wafting through the crowd. On the stage, the band Neo Ehos played music to accompany the dancers, who were donned in traditional clothing native to the Greek Islands. Emanating from the Pastry Shop was the sweet smell of sugar, baked bread and coffee, while an extensive line of people snaked around the buffet of treats it had on display.
Also on display were various souvenirs, including cookbooks, jewelry and art. The Greek Key, a gift stand flanked by the gyro and souvlaki booths, sold imported jewelry and accessories. The Greek Key travels all year long to festivals across the country, and even though the Huntington festival is a smaller venue than most, it was still worth the long drive to owner Pat Walsh.
“Almost every Greek parish has some kind of a festival; some are tiny, others are gigantic,” Walsh said. “This is our fourth year here and believe me; we drove 10 hours to get here, so we wouldn’t come back unless it was worth it. It may be small in size, but the festival itself is fantastic.”
George Alexandropoulos, a Greek immigrant and member of the church for 32 years, mingled among the crowd and long lines dressed in his foustanella, a traditional Greek outfit for men. Back when the festival was little more than a feast in the church’s social hall, Alexandropoulos ran the first outdoor booth, which served roasted lamb on pita bread.
“When we first started, I went up into the mountains and got branches from a tree, put the lamb on them and turned them for four hours,” Alexandropoulos said. “We made a small grill that
could cook one lamb at a time. Then the festival got popular and we started putting the Greek pizza in, then the souvlaki. It seemed like the more we added, the more people came.”
Now, George leaves the lamb, pizza and souvlaki to his son, Georgios Alexandropoulos, who utilizes the same cooking techniques his father brought over from the old country.
“The visual of the lamb being turned on a spit, which is a huge staple in Greek culture, is one of our biggest Easter traditions,” Georgios Alexandropoulos said. “When it came to the festival, we started out by hand-turning the lamb over a pit we dug into the ground. Then we bought a machine made specifically for roasting lamb, but it only cooked one at a time, which wasn’t enough. Then Lucky, one of our church patrons, built the lamb spit we have now out of a motor, a gearbox and some chains. It’s been a sense of pride for the families involved in building it ever since.”
Those families, and the others involved in the festival, have passed the traditions of their native country down to their children.
“I started working the Greek Festival when I was seven years old,” Georgios Alexandropoulos said. “Now, me and my younger brother are starting to take over the lamb pit. The children of the other families are also starting to take over their respective booths. It’s a family thing. You want to build a lamb pit, you talk to the Alexandropoulos’s, you want to make Gyros, you talk to the Svingos’s. It’s how the church amalgamates everybody’s specialty into this one event.”
The Greek Festival occurs every fall at 701 11th Ave. on the grounds of St. George Greek Orthodox Church.

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