Oakland Greek Festival is my favorite of all Festivals. Always the 3rd weekend in May, like a lot of events, but I always find room for it. I have been to Greece and I am Greek. My Grandfather or Papo Achellies Poulos played the Oud (Greek guitar) and was best friends and played with Marko Melkon in the 1950’s. When my Grand Mother, or Yaiyai, Maria Stevens, or Stavos, herd my grandfather was coming to America she went down to the ship yard and woo’ed him over to marriage. Maria was coined the Grandmother of Greek cabaret in the 1950’s ‘Variety Magazine ‘ and started Belly dancing in the United States. She entertained thousands, including Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis. I have a tambourine (pictured below photo by Lynette; gildedserpent.com) made by Greek prisoners, signed by famous Belly dancers in the 1950’s. I also have an original menu from one of her restaurants. I have a very rich and interesting heritage, including my Yaiyai got arrested during prohibition for serving alcohol. Go Grandma
The marriage wasn’t a match made in heaven but lasted long enough to bare 3 children my dad; John Poulos (A Bay Area Bartender and President of Entertainment East Magazine pictured below), twin brother Alex Stevens (President of East Coast Stuntmen’s Association. People are most are impressed when I tell them he was the stuntman for Frank Sinatra (pictured below), when I was a kid I was enthralled by the fact that he was the Ware Wolf on ‘Dark Shadows’ (pictured below). How cool is it to say your uncle’s a Ware wolf? I was young enough at the time to believe he really was one. They also had another daughter… my Aunt Ann Poulos, who I never got a chance to meet. There is a lot of rich Greek/American culture running around the festival behind the scenes that makes me feel at home. Some familiar with my Papo and my Yaiyai. As for my Uncle, he always says he’s “Practically Famous”.
The food is the best! Gyros in Greece are much different, they don’t have ground meat, but they are excellent just the same. They serve; Gyros; ground meat, tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce -yogurt, sour cream, garlic & cucumber, served with pita bread), Spanakopita; Spinach & feta pie in phyllo, Tyropitakia; Feta Cheese Pie Triangles in phyllo, Loukaniko; Greek Sausage; Cooked on grill with oregano and lemon), this year they added a treat; Avgolemono Soup; Greek Lemon Chicken Soup. All of which I eat on my first day! I’m still full. It’s not everyday you get this quality of Greek food in one location. These are not trained professionals in the kitchen, they are authentic Greek grandmothers showing off their talents (maybe with a little grandma to grandma, or yaiyai to yaiyai competition) in the kitchen handing down there skills and tradition to the next generation.
There is also Souvlakin; marinated chunks of meat on little skewers Chicken and beef, Greek Halloumi; cheese grilled, topped with capers salad dressing, Dolmathes; stuffed Grape leaves, Greek salad; lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, feta cheese, vinaigrette, and to my surprise they had a Greek salad in a pita with my favorite salad dressing ‘Greco Fusion’ from Elio’s Family Restaurant (The Eliopoulos’s) they now bottle and sell. Ironically they had an AD at the Gyro booth for the dressings that I made (Photos, layout and printing). They happen to be a customer of mine, I made the restaurant and the dressings website and eliosdining.co
I’m not even going to start with desserts, but mention my favorite; Baklava; flaky fillo filled with ground walnuts & cinnamon, topped with homemade honey sauce. Yummy! Maybe on Sunday. You might even run into Dee Andronico volunteering, she is one of the founders of Andronico’s markets; also another client of mine. A few years ago I was honored to make a video of their 75th year History, played at the prestigious Paramount theater (Pictured standing with Bill Andronico President of Andronico’s on stage), my first video on the silver screen.
If you end the day with a Greek espresso be prepared to have something that resembles mud in the bottom of your cup, Greek style they don’t filter out the grounds. When you go to a Greek festival be prepared to do as the Greeks do. What I love about the Oakland Greek Festival is the atmosphere, they import a Mykonos type windmill as you walk through the front door, the center piece is the beautiful Greek Temple, with rows of pillars, Greek blue windows. Inside the temple is one large room where a wispier will echo throughout the temple, religious icons painted on a copper sealing. Not many know but the rocks are also imported from Greece.
You can dance to several bands, watch period dressed Greek dancers, while you sip on a Imported Greek wine or American/Greek wine made in California; Lolonis, they even have Retsina – defiantly an an acquired taste. Or if you prefer there is micro brew, and Mythos; a Imported Greek logger. And of course, there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages including a Iced Frappé coffee. Lots of vendors selling Greek Imports, cloths, jewelry, religious icons, paintings, photography, tee shirts, music, etc. There are also cooking demonstrations, if you want to try your hand in cooking Greek style.
The people are fun to work with, they are all members, or friends of the church and volunteer (Like I do). I always volunteer to bartend, proceeds go to build their church, it’s a great cause, and event, usually packed out.
The Oakland Greek Festival is as close to Greece you will get in America. You can get discount coupons from there website www.oaklandgreekfestival.com/ Elio’s, and Luke’s Grill in San Leandro www.yelp.com/biz/lukes-grill-san-leandro havesome Greek dishes for those of you who crave Greek food in between Greek Festivals. Or you don’t have a Yaiyai to whip up something for you. The next festival up, local to me is the Castro Valley usually in October. The Festival’s sometimes hosted in Hayward at the Centennial Hall. I prefer when it’s out doors in Castro Valley at their church,but with the weather so unpredictable it’s a safer bet for them inside.It’s another place to enjoy great Greek food, family and entertainment.I typically bartend there too. Hey, it’s easier than working the salad bar like I did one year. www.cvresurrection.org