WILKES-BARRE — Tuesday’s lunch break found downtown office workers Paul Marchelitis, of Dunmore, and Marie Geffert, of Plymouth, at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, where they eagerly ordered much-anticipated favorites.
“I love the stuffed grape leaves,” Marchelitis said, admitting he’d marked the opening date of the church’s spring-time Greek Food Festival on a calendar.
“The desserts are incredible,” Geffert added. “We come every year.”
“Twice a year,” Marchelitis pointed out.
Every spring and fall, volunteers at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on East Ross Street, across the street from the Wilkes-Barre Post Office, prepare tray after tray of ethnic appetizers, entrees and pastries.
Several customers who arrived early on Tuesday said they’re glad the event continues through Friday — because they hope to return.
“The chicken is delicious. It’s just the way I like it,” said Carol Kasper, of Dallas.
“The spinach thing (spanakopita, with spinach baked between layers of phyllo dough) is awesome,” said Kasper’s son, Anthony, who recently completed his freshman year at Pittsburgh’s Point Park University. “I’m going to come back and bring my friends.”
“I always love this,” said perennial customer Carol Milioti, of Duryea, tapping a fork against her serving of pastitsio, a layered dish of macaroni and ground beef. “I can’t miss it.”
Food festivals are the church’s main fundraiser, Tom Iliadis, of Shavertown, president of church council, explained as he helped prepare gyros in the kitchen.
In addition to savory strips of beef wrapped in warm pita bread, the gyros contained whatever combination of lettuce, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki (cucumber) sauce the customer wanted.
Long-time church member George Panagakos, busily adding sliced onions and dollops of tzatziki to the sandwiches, said ever since he closed his candy shop in Nanticoke five years ago, he has more time to spend volunteering — which makes him happy.
Another enthusiastic volunteer, Ed Stelmack, of Hanover Township, sat down to a plate of orzo pasta, gyro meat and salad after delivering orders to a nearby office building and GAR High School (the church will deliver orders of $30 or more, within a 2-mile radius.)
“I don’t cook but I’ll chop things up, go out for soda, clean up the parking lot, whatever they need,” he said cheerfully, explaining he joined the church years ago when he married his wife, festival organizer Christine Stelmack.
With Mediterranean images appearing on a screen and folk melodies playing softly in the background, Ed Stelmack said the local event is almost like an actual visit to Greece.
“It’s just a beautiful, gorgeous country. I really love it,” he said, reminiscing about walking “some of those trails that have been there for thousands of years,” watching streets “shut down” at noon so everyone can take a mid-day break, and even helping a group of archaeologists uncover a section of tile near Delphi.
The food festival continues 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily through Friday. Orders may be placed through greekfoodfestivals.webs.com, by phone at 570-823-4805 or in person at the church.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT