People came out in droves to Greek Fest at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church over the weekend, to drink Greek beer, eat Greek-inspired food and celebrate the recent arrival of fall. In addition to the same dishes that have typically been served at the annual event, sliders stuffed with slices of wood-roasted lamb were available for the first time at the festival.
Mary Carter, an organizer for the event, alerted me to the new menu item earlier this year, after I'd pointed out that a Greek Fest with no roasting lamb is like loukoumades with no honey. After two years of my ribbing, Carter told me they'd have lamb on the spits this year. They weren't roasting whole animals, which make a bigger impact, but at least they were cooking real lamb. Lamb at previous festivals were limited to process gyro meat.
The sliders were sold at the back of the festival, under a tent that was big enough for a Big Fat Greek Circus. Six bucks got you two sliders and a small paper cup of tzatziki. The lamb was mild, a little fatty (in a good way) and plenty tender, but with each bite I took, that wood-fired flavor I'd hoped for eluded me. I found out why as I took my last bite and watched one of the cooks run out of the church from the kitchen.
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He was carrying a massive spit of roasted lamb covered in foil. I followed him to the grill, where other cooks finished the meat over hardwood charcoal. "We finish them out here to add that grilled flavor," another cook told me, explaining the meat was roasted in an oven inside the church first. "If we cooked them entirely over coal it would take four hours."
He's right. Good food takes time. The smell of roasting lamb began to fill the air within seconds, as the roasts dripped juices onto the hot coals below -- the same perfume that had laced many other Greek Fests I've attended. Had the meat spent the entire time roasting this way, it would have been inundated with the smoky scent that makes fire-roasted meat so delicious. The lamb got a little of that flavor -- but not much.
Back at the booth that sold the finished lamb, workers were running out of meat and the line was growing. The sliders had sold out Friday night and were now selling quicker than the cooks could roast the meat -- even with the oven-roasting short cut. Their technique left some potential flavor on the table, but Greek Fest had come up with a simple dish that was killing it. On Monday, Carter said demand for the sliders far exceeded expectations and that they'd be firing more pits next year.
With another rotisserie pit or two, and larger animals instead of small boneless roasts, they'd have enough meat to feed everyone. They'd also have more of that smoky scent wafting through the festival and stirring up demand. Next year, I'm sure. I'm already hungry for it.