‘Faith, food and traditions:’ This festival brings Greek culture to Sacramento-area church

Cars filled the streets Saturday near Thomas Walker’s Elk Grove home. When he heard traditional Greek music blaring, he decided to leave his residence to see what the commotion was about.

Across the street from Walker’s home is Saint Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, at 9165 Peets St. It hosts its annual “Weekend in Greece,” inviting the church family and local residents to partake in a celebration of Greek culture.

Walker isn’t a member of the church, he was just curious about the weekend activity.

Church member Mike Lutz said the annual event is a major fundraiser.

“Everybody volunteers their time. We make contributions to pay for some of the meat,” Lutz said. “We put all of our time into that and all the money, the proceeds go towards an annual fund to keep the church active throughout the year.”

It’s known to leave people at the events full of smiles as they come together for food, fun and hospitality.

The event has something for all ages: face painting for children; learning Greek traditional dances; vendor stands with clothing items, vintage wear and accessories; and for those 21 and up — tasting Greek beer.

They have a variety of food options from lunch to dinner, including desserts.

Main courses include chicken, lamb and gyros. They also serve souvlaki, a pork skewer seasoned with dry rub of salt, pepper, granulated garlic and oregano that is basted in a sauce made with olive oil, lemon juice, white wine, minced garlic, salt, pepper and oregano.

A traditional Greek plate featuring chicken, rice dolmades, pastitsio, souvlaki and spanakopita.
A traditional Greek plate featuring chicken, rice dolmades, pastitsio, souvlaki and spanakopita.

And there’s moussaka, a type of Greek beef and eggplant lasagna, sometimes made with zucchini and potato baked with a creamy bechamel sauce.

Other dishes include: rice dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with rice; and pastitsio, layers of macaroni seasoned with a ground beef filling and cheese, also baked with bechamel sauce.

Not in the mood for a huge meal, well that’s OK.

They also have snacks, pastries and desserts such as: spanakopita, a filo dough filled herb-seasoned spinach and a blend of feta, parmesan, ricotta and cream cheese; triopita, filo dough triangles filled with a blend of feta, parmesan, ricotta, cream cheese and eggs; kourabiedes, a powdered donut hole; and moustokouloura, a soft cookie with an essence of grape.

Also, koulouraki, a sweet, butter-based pastry with a hint of vanilla; galatoboureko, a custard, crispy filo shell topped with a honey syrup; baklava sundaes; and paximadaki, a twice-baked cookie with a distinct flavor of almonds and citrus that’s similar to a Biscotti cookie.

Baklava sundae, a Greek dessert dish.
Baklava sundae, a Greek dessert dish.

And if you’re not hip to all those sweet, high caloric dishes, they also have a Greek salad featuring sliced tomatoes, red onions and English cucumbers in a Greek salad dressing.

History of Saint Katherine church, event

The church was founded by Father Constantine Pappademos, known affectionately as “Father Dino,” who serves as the pastor of Saint Katherine’s.

It first opened in 1988 and was at an Elk Grove warehouse on Dino Drive, near Elk Grove Boulevard and Waterman Road.

There’s no relationship between his nickname and the previous street name the church existed at.

Constantine is his formal name in Greek, however it can be short for Constantinos, which is sometimes spelled or pronounced as Constantdino. He shortened it to “Dino”.

The church moved to its current location on Peets Street in 1995. A year later, in 1996, the “Weekend in Greece” fundraiser event began.

“After we opened the church, we started doing it on a much smaller scale,” Pappademos said. “We saw it as an opportunity to bring the Greek culture and the Greek traditions to the people of Elk Grove and the surrounding Sacramento area.”

They do that, he said, by primarily providing excellent homemade natural ingredients in their Greek food, including traditional recipes prepared by the ladies of the church.

The traditions have gained a reputation for quality over the years, Pappademos said.

The church is the epitome of Greek heritage and culture, starting with its design.

During the weekend, Pappademos has been giving tours, providing history lessons to educate those who might be visiting a Greek Orthodox Church for the first time.

“The church is designed in the ninth century Byzantine style of architecture with a dome on top, which is a characteristic of Greek orthodox churches,” Father Dino said. “And inside we have iconography which is the religious paintings that are unique to orthodox Christianity.”

He even provides samples of Byzantine chant music that’s used in the church.

Defining Greek Culture

Pappademos said that Greek heritage is very ancient dating back to before Christ. He believes the culture is about positivity, tradition and family.

“Greek people tend to be very positive with a can-do spirit,” Pappademos said. “And then they are very traditional people. They love to preserve all the great things throughout history, the language, the foods, the dances, the Christian faith. All those things.”

One of things Pappademos said is extremely important to the element of Greek culture is the concept of family.

“The whole idea of family is very strong, from grandparents and parents and children,” Pappademos said. “They tend to have a very strong bond that’s enforced with the faith, the food, the traditions.”

Attending the event

For those who want to get a head start on experiencing Greek culture, Pappademos is inviting people to his Sunday service called “Divine Liturgy,” which will primarily be conducted in English, but feature some original Greek language. The service begins at 10 a.m.

The festival will continue through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It will be a dancefest beginning in the afternoon starting with a dance performance by Ta Pethakia, a group of children from pre-K to kindergarten at 1 p.m. That will be followed by an older group called Glendi dancers. Festival attendees can hit the dance floor and learn how to dance in traditional Greek style at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Pappademos will conduct another tour of the church at 3 p.m.

There will also be music by Helios Greek Band throughout the day.

Carmichael resident and church member Sophia Stathos said the food is “excellent.”

“If you didn’t come Saturday,” Stathos said. “(You’ll want to) come on Sunday.”