What to Eat at the Portland Greek Festival This Weekend
The Portland Greek Festival returns this weekend—September 30 to October 2—for the first time since the pandemic hit. A tradition since 1951, my friends have been buzzing about the event for a few weeks—with the sole intention of loading up on roasted meat and sweets. We took the liberty of visiting the Greek festival, held at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 3131 NE Glisan St, on its first day open so we can give you the scoop on what to order.
After buying your wristband ($5) and loading its scannable chip with cash (or your credit card), make a beeline for the roasted lamb ticket booth—it’s just on the left after you walk in. A portion of lamb will run you $10, and though the people at the ticket booth demurred when I asked them how many portions we should buy for our group of three, I can tell you that you’ll want at least one per person. And be patient: depending on when you arrive, you might have to wait up to two hours for your lamb, as we did. Each day during the festival, five whole lambs are spit-roasted over mesquite charcoal, and their cooking times are staggered so that one will be ready every couple hours.
While you’re waiting, stop by the booth offering ready-to-eat grilled meats. Our favorite was the loukanika, a pork sausage with super-crisp skin. The pork souvlaki skewers are solid, as are the gyros, but there are probably better ones to be had in the city. At the outdoor taverna, grab glasses of Greek wine or beer to wash down all that meat.
You’ll still have plenty of time to kill, so head inside past the Greek salads and follow the arrows to the pastry room, where you’ll find no fewer than eight types of pastries. Lines are long, so you’ll have plenty of time to decide. Our favorites were the kataifi, made with super-crispy angel hair-size strands of buttery dough soaked in honey, the classic walnut baklava, and the melomakarona, egg-shaped cookies soaked in honey with a tangy orange flavor.
Next, head back outside and double down on desserts. The baklava sundae is shockingly good, with airy, rich ice cream, a hint of chocolate sauce, and crispy honey-soaked baklava bits that somehow tasted even better than the whole baklavas from the pastry counter. But for me, the highlight of any Greek festival is the loukoumades—doughnuts a little smaller than golf balls, tossed in honey and sprinkled with, in this case, cinnamon. Pro tip: hover by the loukoumades stand and wait until the tray is refilled with a fresh batch, then pounce so you can get them while they’re piping hot.
At this point, your lamb should hopefully be ready, and let's hope you haven't filled up too much. It’s a loudspeaker-worthy event, where everyone lines up to claim their portion with plenty of clapping and shouts of “Opa!” The group of five or so people staffing the booth efficiently chop the lamb and separate it into meat, skin, and bony portions within a matter of minutes. As for the lamb itself? It could use a little heavier hand with the salt and seasoning, but it’s certainly some of the juiciest I’ve ever tried, complete with crispy skin and morsels around the bones that melt in your mouth. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be an ideal festival food—and we’ll take it over a turkey leg any day.