Every year in early June, the Greek Orthodox church down the street throws a festival and invites all of Brooklyn to take part. For a solid week, our block is perfumed with garlic and grill smoke while Greek music (and, at night, thumping dance club jams) fill the air.
As teens in traditional garb link arms and perform Greek folk dances, their yia-yias sell seemingly endless trays of homemade spanakopita and honey-soaked desserts laden with pistachios, walnuts, and almonds. Handsome young guys work the grill stations, serving up souvlaki, gyros, and octopus to hungry Brooklynites.
All week, the street is closed to cars and a vaguely European atmosphere takes hold. Diners fill the tables in the street and a handsome priest in a gray robe belted with a rope meanders through the crowd, greeting parishioners and locals who are gathered in downtown Brooklyn to eat, drink, and make merry.
This year, E. and I made the most of a fairly rare occurrence: a sunny, warm Saturday night when neither of us had to work. We arrived early at the festival and picked up some grilled octopus (charred and smoky, but delicately flavored and very tender) and a gyro platter, along with spanakopita and a big Greek salad.
We also picked up some homemade Greek yogurt with a sour cherry compote and a piece of kataifi, redolent of cinnamon and honey, for dessert. Armed with this feast and a bottle of cold, crisp white wine, we made our way to the waterfront park, where we set up a blanket and dined as the sun set over Brooklyn.
As an avid eater and home cook, I love the way food inhabits—indeed, creates—our memories, and over the past few years, the taste of our neighborhood Greek festival has become inextricably linked with summer. From the creamy tang of feta cheese against the sweetness of cherry tomatoes to the garlicky earthiness of lamb with tzatziki on pillowy flatbread, the flavors sing of sunshine and warm breezes.
Someday, I hope we’ll travel to Greece and dine as the Parthenon looms in the distance. Until then, the Greek festival right here in Brooklyn is a glorious way to spend a summer evening. Opa!