Be Greek at Med Fest, if only for a day

Be Greek at Med Fest, if only for a day
Georgia Vasilakis and Billie Cisneros baking baklava

“Sharing our cultural heritage, customs, food, music and dance with our friends in Southeast Texas,” says St. Michael Mediterranean Festival organizer Georgia Vasilakis, the Mediterranean Festival has quickly become one of the most anticipated events of the season. Now in its eighth year, Med Fest will be held Saturday, May 2, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (rain or shine) at St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church at 690 N. 15th St. in Beaumont.

In addition to traditional cuisine from Greece and other Mediterranean countries, attendees will be delighted by a variety of unique ethnic goods on sale at the bazaar and diverse entertainment – and admittance is free.

Food booths aplenty will offer savory gyros, kabobs, pizza, spanakopita (fillo dough filled with spinach and cheese), dolmades (meat and rice stuffed grape leaves), kafta (ground beef blended with finely chopped onion, parsley and spices) and kafta sandwiches, and other Middle Eastern fare will be available for purchase.

Outside, the Mediterranean Café will continue to serve its traditional Greek and Lebanese hot coffee, as well as a Greek frappe. The traditional baklava ice cream will still be outside but expanded with a variety of toppings including pistachios and almonds. Other additions include tiramisu cups, biscotti, and Athenian mud pie brownies. Middle Eastern iced coffee will be served in a separate booth with Awamat-Lebanese donut holes.

The Pastry Shop, inside the church hall, is maintained by the Ladies Altar Society and will again have an assortment of pastries including Lebanese baklawa (fillo dough filled with nuts and sweetened with attar syrup) gribee (butter cookies), koulouraki (Greek cookies, which are great for dipping in coffee), arros (savory date-filled cakes), namoura (semolina cake sweetened with attar), touatiyat (bite-sized date cookies) and khubaz (bread).

A variety of Mediterranean beers and wines will be available for purchase in addition to Miller, Budweiser, Saint Arnold and sparkling wine.

Inside the church hall, attendees may enjoy a traditional St. Michael’s dinner, or the Mediterranean Plate, including kibbee (extra lean beef and cracked wheat stuffed with sautéed meat, onions and pine nuts), cabbage rolls (meat, rice and spices rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked with lemon) and more.

If you are in a shopping mood, Vasilakis says you will be in for a treat. 

“We will have a selection of items directly from Lebanon,” she said. 

T-shirts, fresh herbs, spices, potted plants and other ethnic items are just a few examples of what you can purchase from the Mediterranean without leaving Southeast Texas.

There will also be plenty of music and dancing. Performing outside will be Three Salonikas featuring Nick Leontoudis, Takis and Jimmy at 11 a.m., and George Haddad will entertain inside the church hall.

Numerous dancers and troupes will be on stage at Med Fest including Al-Juthoor Dabke, Olympian Dancers from Houston as well as Kefi Dancers, a kids group from the St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church in Houston.

Just after 4 p.m., Munir Pavez and the Al-Juthoor Dabke group will teach you how to Dabke. Well, what is Dabke? It’s the national dance of several Middle Eastern countries and is performed at weddings and joyful occasions. The line forms from right to left and the leader heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers.

There will also be a “So You Think You Can Dance” Mediterranean dance contest at 5:30 p.m. followed by a group Dabke Dance, where festival-goers are encouraged to join, at 6 p.m.

Let’s not forget about the huge children’s area. Magician Chad Chesmark will perform three free shows beginning at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

There will also be a petting zoo, along with a camel, bungee jump, moonwalk, spin and sand art, lollipop tree, cotton candy, popcorn, face-painting and much more.

Those interested in the history behind the church can learn more by attending any of three Discovering Orthodoxy sessions at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

“We, at St. Michael’s, strive to enrich Southeast Texas by sharing our food, culture and hospitality,” said Vasilakis. “It’s our pleasure to serve the community and invite everyone to join us and experience it.”

Vasilakis, who is a first-generation Greek-American born in Galveston and a member of St. Michael for several years, worked in a coffee booth at previous festivals preparing Greek and Lebanese coffees. She is fluent in Greek and would take orders in her parents’ native language, instructing novices in enunciation. Each year, she also assists her mother in preparing traditional and delicious pastries for the festival from scratch.

They use family recipes cultivated over generations and only the freshest ingredients for every item made with pride by experienced hands. Her mother, Athina Vasilakis, and father Konstantinos Vasilakis were born on the Greek island of Chios and moved to Lumberton when Georgia was just 1 year old. She said she was raised surrounded by Greek culture and loves that the festival encourages others to be part of that culture, if even just for the day.

But for anyone who has attended Med Fest in the past, prepare for a completely different layout to help accommodate the flow of traffic.

“Also something new this year is that you can purchase presale tickets online,” added Vasilakis. “You can purchase them at eventjoy.com and search for St. Michael Mediterranean Fest.” Pre-sale tickets are for food, pastries, the children’s area or anything for sale.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Julie Rogers “Gift of Life” Program.

Med Fest information can be obtained online at stmichaelmedfest.com.

“Just come and see,” added Vasilakis. “You won’t be disappointed.”

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