Monday, 18 August 2008

GREEKFEST 2008 ~ Ottawa

Summer may not be my favourite month, but there is one thing that it is good for: festivals. No matter what city you are in there's something to do. This weekend alone here in Ottawa was a Caribbean parade, a Folk Festival, the Super Ex (big fair) and Greekfest. LJ and I had a busy weekend but we managed to go to Greekfest on Saturday night. Neither of us had ever been, and it had been a while since either of us had Greek food, we were up for the event.

I couldn't find very much on Ottawa's Greekfest. I have no idea how long it has been going on, how many people go, etc. I came across it when looking up information on Super Ex, which I was originally excited about for Carney food, but admission price was more than I wanted to pay on top of paying for the food. But I did find out that Greekfest was free . . .

LJ and I both had some preconceived notions of what Greekfest was going to be. Memories of Taste of the Danforth where various vendors compete with soulvaki from different restaurants and stands on a blocked off street with and music and lots of people. Well, Ottawa's Greek festival was a little different. First, we did see people walking from all over to get to the event. When we got to the event, it seemed to be in a Greek Orthodox Church parking lot. A big parking lot, but a lot none the less.

We first came across the tents where Greek stuff was being sold: jewelry, pottery, books etc. Maybe 6-7 vendors in total. Across the was was a giant inflatable slide for kids. Then there was the food tent, the dining tent, and the stage/dancing area. We joined a large line to get food, watching various people walk out with tasty looking items.

The crowd was really big, but not yet impossible to move. Old people kept trying to bud in front of us and others in the long food line - some not noticing there was an actual line in the crowd, and others just trying to abuse the system. My mouth was watering as more and more food went past. I knew we were getting close.

All of a sudden, we were in the food tent. The menu's were up high, but in small font. It was hard to see, discuss what you were going to order, and keep your place in line as people were in a large shuffle without any clear lines (later, we saw fliers being handed to an even longer line that had the menu, so people later than 6pm had advanced knowledge of the menu). LJ and I thought there was going to be different vendors, but all the food was cooked by one big tent. I couldn't find any info to say if it was a restaurant catering, volunteers, etc. We ordered our food, but found that it was expensive. Really expensive.

We wanted a sampling, so here's what we ordered and what it cost:

  • LOUKANIKO: Greek bbq sausage ~ $6
  • PORK SOUVLAKI PLATTER: 2 sticks of tender chunks of marinated pork, served with Greek salad and bread ~ $11.50 (we didn't get any bread)
  • GYROS PITA: Slices of gyros (beef) topped with tomatoes, onions, parsley and tzatziki sauce on a pita bread $5.75
  • SPANAKOPITA & TIROPITA: Spinach & cheese pies in a phyllo pastry $5

Plus 2 pops for $3, our total was over $30, and we didn't even have dessert yet. Now at something like Ribfest, the food is expensive, but proceeds go to charity. Here, there didn't seem to be any charity, so I can't understand why I'm paying $6 for a sausage. And another $4.25 for tzatziki that would be natural for all these, and we didn't get the bread that the menu says we should get with it either.

The next challenge was finding a place to sit. There was a giant tent housing long lines of tables with cheap fold up chairs. The situation made the whole dining experience terrible; the heat, flies, too much crowding, people continually pushing past you with their trays coming and going as you sit, and the table was dirty and people had left their garbage behind them. And we were lucky just to get a seat! The food sure didn't help either.

ABOVE: Over $30 worth of food. Doesn't look like it does it?

This grilled marinated meat looked tasty on the stick. It was tender, but not so much it fell off the stick. It wasn't the most flavourful soulvaki I've had, but it was good. The best part was that it was grilled and you could smell the bbq pork everywhere at the fest.

The platter came with a Greek Salad. The salad was simple, with peppers, onion, lettuce, 2 cubes of feta and 2 olives. The dressing came in a little plastic container and I thought it was going to be flavourless, but it ended up being a really decent dressing.

Before I got here, when I was thinking of the food, I was planning on Soulvaki and Gyros. Sausage didn't even cross my mind. But while standing in line I saw a giant grilled sausage go by, I knew I had to have it. It was about a foot long, and looked liked grilled glory. LJ and I split it, and it was juicy inside. But the flavour was lacking. It was blah, and I don't just mean devoid of spicy heat the way I normally prefer my sausages. This just wasn't very good. I ended up drowning each bite in side of tzatziki we got.

LJ really wanted to try these. Little cheese filled pies. Little flavour. The inside was a cheese mixture that just turned chalky in the mouth. We thought maybe the problem was that they were cold when we got them and they should be heated. We took them home and re-heated them and they were still no good.

This is a favourite of mine. I love a good gyro, pronounced 'yur-ro' not 'gai-ro' or also known as a donair in other circles. Remember my love of Nova Scotia Donairs? Anyways, I didn't see them cutting the meat from a spit, so I envisioned the worst and it being pre-cut. We ate everything else first, and by the time we got to the gyro, we didn't want to eat any longer. LJ tried a bit of the meat but didn't like it.

A day later, I had the gyro reheated (wrapped in foil and put in the oven, not microwave) and I added some more tzatziki. I thought it was great. There wasn't much tomato/onion etc but it was a gyro I would definitely get again if I could. It would be awesome with some Nova Scotia sweet sauce on it.

So Greekfest turned out to be an ok experience. The required Greek music & Greek dancers were there, and other events included learning Greek, cooking Greek, and even a "Everything you wanted to know about Greek Culture but were Afraid to Ask" seminar. We were just there for the food, and our experience was not great. An expensive dinner, sitting in an uncomfortable environment, we decided we would have been disappointed if we didn't go, but we weren't going to be going back for the rest of the weekend/week. We didn't have a blast, but everyone else seemed to be having a good time.

August 14-21,
1315 Prince of Wales Drive

click HERE for more photos.

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