I must admit my general lack of patience had me more than a little irritated when I finally arrived at the Atlanta Greek Festival. After parking in an office park a mile and a half from the cathedral where the festival took place (the only place to park legally for free), then waiting in line for at least 10 minutes for the shuttle bus to the festival, I was not pleased to find that there was another line to purchase admission tickets (albeit a short one), then yet another line to buy food tickets (most of the stands did not take cash).
While this multiple-line, multiple-ticket system seemed overly complicated for a fairly small outside festival, my annoyance dissipated when I finally met up with my friends and one of them offered me what she couldn’t finish of her Greek potatoes. One bite of a perfectly-seasoned, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside potato wedge dipped in creamy, tangy tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt) sauce and I was sold. The ridiculously complicated arrival and ticketing process had been more than worth it.
Armed with $16.00 worth of food/beverage tickets, I was ready for more. Normally I like to take my time with any menu and make sure I make the perfect choice, especially when faced with a long list of exotic items I can’t even pronounce. But in this case my friends’ enthusiastic praises for the gyros they had just inhaled after their morning workout was enough convincing for me. As I fought the crowd to the much-hyped gyro stand, I thought back on my previous experiences with gyros. I’d had a few juicy, full-flavored ones in my day, but the majority had been made with chicken and on the bland side.
“It’s chicken, right?” I asked my pals, still not convinced that these things could be as satisfying as they suggested.
My ears perked up and my mouth began to water when they chuckled and informed me that the gyros had actually been made with a tasty, but mysterious, meat. Mystery meat – my absolute fave!!!
While I generally find mystery meat to be the most flavorful meat of them all, this one took me over the top. My huge $6.00 gyro was stuffed with a thinly-cut, brown meat that tasted like meatballs sans the tomato sauce. I was in heaven. With traditional music blaring in the background, the soft pita bread, glorious mystery meat and crisp tomatoes, onions and lettuce joined hands in my mouth and showed my taste buds how to get down Greek style. Opa! I’ve officially changed my future honeymoon destination from Italy to Greece (hope my future fiancé doesn’t mind).
While the rest of my time at the festival proved to be an enjoyable way to spend a summer-like Saturday in October, nothing after this point compared to my euphoric encounter with a food I’d had so many times before but had never truly experienced the way the Greek gods intended. I poured over some art, jewelry and religious relics for sale. I sipped on a strong, yet smooth, Greek iced coffee. I watched the “house” band belt out some time-honored tunes, and some adorable children in ancestral garb uncomfortably lock arms and rock back and forth with school-picture smiles plastered on their faces.
In typical fashion, my eyes had been bigger than my stomach when I arrived, and I still had a pile of tickets to spend before I got in line for the return shuttle bus. What’s a stuffed-to-the-max girl to do? Well, I hadn’t yet experienced a single morsel of the myriad pastries available for the tasting, so a to-go box of baklava was definitely in order. If I’d still been hungry I definitely would have gone for the innovative baklava sundae, crunchy pieces of the super-sweet dessert crumbled over a huge scoop of good, old vanilla ice cream. But such is life. With still a few tickets in hand, I decided that my football-fiend boyfriend would enjoy a nice stack of zesty potatoes to enjoy on the couch when I got home. (I was right.)
Finally ticket-less and tuckered out, I got back on the bus and reflected on the day’s adventure. Overall, it was worth the $3.00 entrance fee to be able to cross the Greek festival off of the long list of Atlanta festivals I’ve attended during my 3½ years in town. And of course that gyro will give me sweet dreams for weeks (some people dream about love, romance and foreign lands, I dream about food).
But will I attend next year? Absolutely not.
You see, the kind folks who organize the festival have made it so that I never have to take their shuttle again. This year, I came, I saw, I conquered. Next year, I will be taking full advantage of the festival’s food drive-thru, most likely visiting it more than once throughout the weekend. If available, I will be ordering the exact same delights I became one with this year – and of course extra tzatziki sauce to slather over everything. Yes, maybe even on the baklava. It’s that good!
Until then, I will be stalking down every Greek restaurant and stand in town, hoping to find something that’s a close match to what my palate was treated to today. Sadly, though, I’m thinking the success of this mission will be minimal at best.
Additional information on the Atlanta Greek Festival and its phenomenal fare can be found at: http://atlantagreekfestival.org
*** Anyone with food knowledge or familiar with Greek culture will be relieved to know that shortly after writing this I eventually deduced that the mystery meat in my gyro was lamb, aka the best meat of all time. Since this first glorious gyro encounter, I’m quite sure I’ve eaten an entire lamb’s worth of gyros. I’ve been able to find gyros that are just as magical as the one described above at various locations including Astoria, Queens where many Greeks make their residence and in Atlanta’s own Avra on Juniper in Midtown. I have not, however, come in contact with any potatoes like the ones at the Greek Festival, and the other tzatziki sauces I’ve tried have paled in comparison. Until next year…