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June 11, 2013

Opa! Fest serves up fun — Greek style

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

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Opa! Fest serves up fun — Greek style
The Ezones lead the opening parade to begin Opa! Fest on the grounds of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at last year’s festival.

Over the past 20 years that Opa! Fest has been held on the grounds of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Troy, Kessie Kaltsounis has pitched in to do just about everything except latrine duty.

“I was in the room when they decided to name it Opa! Fest,” said Kaltsounis, this year’s festival co-chair.

St. Nick’s, as parishioners call it, was first established south of Eight Mile in Detroit and is celebrating its 77th year. Parishioners have put on the festival in Troy for the past 20 years.

“It’s the oldest Greek festival in metro Detroit,” said Nick Phillips, co-chair of the festival.

The food — galaktoboureko, a custard and phyllo dough confection; pastitsio, Greek lasagna; grape leaves; spinach pies; baklava and honey puffs — is prepared by energetic volunteers.

For the first time this year, the Three Greek Sisters will demonstrate how to cook healthy Greek dishes on site during the festival June 22. The sisters, Betty, Eleni and Samantha Bakopoulos, of Canada, are co-authors of “Back to the Beginning,” a cookbook of authentic Greek dishes. The women immigrated to Greek Town in Toronto, Canada, from a village near Kalamata, Greece, with their parents in the 1960s. The sisters have also co-authored “Three Sisters Around the Greek Table,” which won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award. Both books will be available for signing and purchase on site.

Kaltsounis said the St. Nick’s community puts on the festival to share their Greek culture, get to know their neighbors and for philanthropic reasons.

“We roll up our sleeves and eat, sweat and hold hands to dance together,” she said. “That’s what keep us coming back.”

Folk music and dancing, the Plaka Marketplace, with authentic Greek merchandise, wine tastings, children’s games and food, and formal tours of the church and iconography will be featured at this year’s festival.

Phillips noted that the tours will feature presentations of the icons, which highlight the Byzantine influence in Rome.

Also, for the first time, there will be an eating contest at 2:30 p.m. June 23 to see who can eat the most loukoumades, which are honey puffs. There will be a $100 cash prize and bragging rights.

“I think bragging rights will be the best,” Kaltsounis said. 

A local band that performs Greek music, Enigma, will return to the festival stage this year.

There will be a raffle for a two-year lease on a General Motors vehicle and various models on site.

OPA! Fest will be held on the grounds of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 760 W. Wattles, between Crooks and Livernois, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. June 21, noon-11 p.m. June 22, and noon-8 p.m. June 23. General admission is $2, and children younger than 12 attend for free. There is free admission with three cans of food to benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan and to military personnel and their families.  Gyros will be sold for half price noon-4 p.m. June 22 and 23.  Free parking and shuttle service is available from Walsh College, 3838 Livernois, south of Wattles, to and from the festival. For information, visit www.opafest.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.