It’s the time of the year when there seems to be something to celebrate every weekend in Wheeling, and this weekend happens to mark the return of the Wheeling Grecian Festival. Many Wheelingites looking for their Greek food fix can find it at the end of July during the annual Grecian Fest. Sponsored by St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church, the first Greek Orthodox church in the state of WV, the festival has become a yearly highlight for anyone looking for fellowship, entertainment, and delicious food. Now approaching its 22nd year as a multi-day festival, the event is directed by local architect, Gus Kayafas, with oversight from Father Demetrios Tsikouris.
“While we love being known for the food, it’s also an opportunity to highlight the fellowship and commitment our church has to the community. We definitely have great baklava, but we want our community to know we care about our friendliness and hospitality as well,” states Kayafas. Over 100 families are parishioners in the church, and everyone takes an active role in preparation for the festival. “Most preparation is done 1-2 months in advance by the ladies of the church when they begin making pastries,” states Kayafas. A family matter, Kayafas’ wife, Maria, manages over 60 Agape dancers, ages 3-21, who provide entertainment with traditional Greek and ethnic dancing.
In addition to the entertainment, free cooking classes led by instructors Maria Kayafas and Barb Landers, are scheduled to take place every day of the festival at 2 and 4 p.m. The sessions will focus on cooking Kimadopita, a minced meat phyllo pie, Tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt dip, and of course, Dolmathes, grape leaves. Guided tours will also be available to allow the community the opportunity to learn more about the Orthodox Christian Church in the beautiful open sanctuary at noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.
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The festival offers two dining locations, an indoor location for carry-out dinners, and an outdoor, food tent set up. Housed inside The Hellenic Center attached to the church, the indoor offering boasts selections such as roasted lamb, Souzoukakia Dinner (Greek meatballs), Pastitsio (Greek lasagna), and Greek Village Salad. The outdoor tavern offers a variety of fries and appetizers, wings, calamari, and of course, Greek Gyros.
“Gyro means ‘round,’ and the gyro meat cooks on a round cone,” states Kayafas. The lamb, beef, and spice meat mixture is supplied from Chicago, but prepared in Wheeling. Cooked on a cone, the gyro meat is placed on a Shawarma until cooked, then shredded for guests, and often served in a pita with tzatziki, fresh tomatoes, and onions. Serving an estimated 8-10 thousand guests per year, the gyro remains one of the most popular food selections at the festival.
Be sure to head to 2215 Chapline Street between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. from July 26-29 to join in on this delicious tradition of Wheeling fun and fellowship.
•Karin Butyn was born and raised in Wheeling, WV. A graduate of Wheeling Central, West Liberty University, and Wheeling Jesuit University, Karin spent nearly a decade teaching both English as Second Language and Reading Language Arts. She is currently in her third year as an Assistant Principal for Ohio County Schools. In her free time, she enjoys running and music. She and her husband, TJ, are raising their young sons, Finn and Watson, in Warwood.