Sunday, June 29, 2003

Porkopolis has a taste for souvlakia



By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Panegyri Greek Festival is a little bit like the Portokalos family in My Big, Fat Greek Wedding - trying to maintain a rich cultural identity in the middle of America.

And, too, Panegyri - which means "everyone around" - has grown into one heck of a bash.

After three decades, the festival at Finneytown's Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is a balance of the traditional and the contemporary.

You'll find a room of yaiyais (grandmothers) making large pans of sweet baklava.

But you'll also have a chance to tackle the extreme rock climbing wall.

The festival, which started Friday and continues until 9 p.m. today, attracted a large crowd on a sunny Saturday.

Running the flaming cheese (known as saganaki) booth this year were George and Eleni Stratigeas, two relative newcomers to the local Greek community after moving to Oakley two years ago.

They have yet to receive a complaint about their perfectly melted kefalotiri cheese - or Eleni's homemade tzadziki dip, for that matter.

"It's cheese, and it's on fire," George said. "Who wouldn't want it?"

The couple, both in their early 30s, found new friends quickly after joining Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas, a close-knit, traditional Greek Orthodox congregation.

"The people welcome you," Eleni said.

Then there are the people who have been working the festival for years - people like George Mavridoglou, 58, of Colerain Township, who was shaving meat in the gyro booth.

The Greek native, who has been with the Panegyri since its inception, said the three-day festival is an important way to educate the public.

"Thirty years ago, we thought this would be a great way to expose our culture to Greater Cincinnati," he said. "At that time, our heritage was pretty much unknown here. Now that's all changed."

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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