Church picnics are popular events in Scranton. The annual festival at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church is held in the beginning of June and runs for one short week. This years festival was a big hit. The crowd favorites are the authentic Greek delicacies prepared by dedicated members of the church.
Many churches hold an annual festival/block party/fair. This Greek Orthodox church is two short blocks from the city center and hosts a crowded celebration of their culture. The organizers run the festival during lunch and dinner hours attracting many of the downtown workers at least once.
The church basement is laid out in efficient fashion to funnel the crowds in and out. The local paper’s write-up mentions 35,000 dinners served in 2011. Based on the crowd the two times I was there this year that’s probably not a stretch. This year was an adventure as my oldest daughter and I sampled most of the dishes we had never heard of. The Pastitsio was a delicious blend of pasta and meat capped by a light creamy layer of bechamel sauce. Not being Greek or Orthodox we were stepping into new territory with every plate.
The spices on the lamb shank were surprisingly good. Cinnamon? And who doesn’t love a fall off the bone tender lamb shank dished up in a church basement? I must admit that the variety of dishes pushed the lamb shank down the list on our first visit. But I couldn’t walk past it a second time. Lamb isn’t something I eat often but have yet to have it prepared in a way that I don’t like it.
This lamb was expertly cooked and carried itself well on the buffet service. I understand why the crowds keep the tent seating area packed.
The desserts are not to be missed. I imagine they are made by someone’s grandmother mixing and baking for days to be ready for the festival. Two items stood out, an oval shortbreadish cookie and a shredded wheat-like pastry. The cookie was just perfect, sweet and crumbly without being dry. It was tough to tell if it was only baked or maybe a little fried. Since a lost the menu I am going to have to leave you wondering the name of the cookie is.
The shredded wheat consistency of the pastry was something I never had before. A little online research has educated me that there is a special pastry dough similar to
(or can be substituted with) shredded phyllo dough. Different. Delicious. Very Greek. Kataifi is the name I can find for this wonderful sweet gem. Make some if you have an adventurous spirit.
The desserts are a high point of the festival and make multiple trips a necessity. If you find yourself anywhere near Scranton in early June this is a celebration of culture and heritage you need to enjoy.