A taste of Greek flavor downtown

Advocate file photo by ADAM LAU -- Juhan Frank and Gina Rossi, seated on the floor, join a crowd watching belly dancer Margo Brault perform during the Baton Rouge Greek Festival in 2013.
Advocate file photo by ADAM LAU -- Juhan Frank and Gina Rossi, seated on the floor, join a crowd watching belly dancer Margo Brault perform during the Baton Rouge Greek Festival in 2013.

George Economides whipped up hundreds of orders of his savory lamb treat Saturday for seemingly endless lines at the Baton Rouge Greek Festival.

Economides, the festival’s food coordinator, said many of the spices used in his recipe come from his native Greece.

He moved to Baton Rouge in 1974 to get his master’s degree in engineering, but still routinely visits his homeland.

“I love doing it because people show surprise by the fact that, for the first time in their life, they enjoy lamb,” said Economides, who was dubbed the “Lamb King” by other festival organizers.

The lamb delicacy was one of many aspects of Greek culture that thousands of people took in during the second annual Baton Rouge Greek Festival.

The Advocate is a major sponsor of the event.

The Belle of Baton Rouge Casino and Hotel hosted the festival in its downtown atrium.

Activities originally were set for North Boulevard’s Town Square, but were moved indoors because of the threat of inclement weather.

Heavy rain soaked the early portion of last year’s festival.

“I think that scared a lot of people away,” said Mike Rood, the festival’s entertainment and beverages coordinator. “Being indoors, it’s not an issue.”

Rood, who is half Greek, said the festival promotes Greek heritage and raises funds for the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge, which is one of the event’s main organizers.

Some of the festival’s proceeds also go to local charities such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Rood said.

Rood said he worked for years at the Greek festival in New Orleans, which he saw grow from a small event to a huge annual celebration.

He said he hopes to see the same from the Baton Rouge Greek Festival.

“It’s almost like we’re able to step up into the big leagues and finally start doing a festival,” Rood said.

The Rev. Anthony Monteleone, priest of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge, said the city used to host Greek festivals many years ago.

As the church grew in Baton Rouge, so did the idea to host a new festival, Monteleone said.

“Baton Rouge is now becoming a multicultural city,” Monteleone said. “Now we feel like we really are part of the mix here.”

The festivalgoers Saturday milled about the atrium, visiting tables that featured Mediterranean arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry and artwork.

Christina Riquelmy wandered about the festival wearing a button from a similar event she attended years ago in Houston.

The button featured a man playing an instrument called a bouzouki, a Greek musical instrument akin to a guitar.

Riquelmy, who was born in Greece, said she visited a booth at the Baton Rouge Greek Festival that featured posters and photos of historical sites in Greece.

“It brings back memories of Greece,” she said.

Entertainers, ranging from the Alpha Omega Sound Greek Band to the Baton Rouge Belly Dancers, charmed the crowd from start to finish.

Bambi Pizzolato, a member of the Baton Rouge Belly Dancers, said belly dancing isn’t necessarily part of Greek culture, but is associated with it because it’s popular within the same region of the world.

Pizzolato said she and the other belly dancers enjoy the festival because of the positive reaction from the audience.

“It’s so much fun,” she said. “Everyone here is so nice. We had such a great response last year from the crowd. Everybody enjoyed it.”