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Greek and Brazilian Fests tied together by Olympics, meat

Published September 9, 2012 5:51 pm

Downtown • Folks flock to events for a taste of culture — and beef, lamb, pork and bacon-wrapped turkey.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Brazil, continuing an athletic tradition that dates back to Greece in the year 776 B.C.

And for centuries, athletes have eaten meat for the protein and essential amino acids it provides.

But it isn't just athletes who love meat — which explains the long lines at two meat-centric festivals in Salt Lake City this weekend.

The Salt Lake Greek Festival at Holy Trinity Cathedral continued Saturday at the same time the eighth Utah Brazilian Festival held its annual one-day festival, and it was clear that young and old came for the beef, lamb, pork, chicken, bacon, squid, turkey and, not least, meat wrapped in meat.

Of course, other menu items were offered. At the Brazilian Festival at the Gallivan Center, there were vendors selling Brazilian doughnuts, cakes, cream-filled churros, black bean dishes, and three types of truffles.

But the longest line by far was for ravenous, sweaty people shelling out $7 for a plate that was overloaded with bacon-wrapped turkey and parmesan-garlic beef, grilled on skewers at Salt Lake City's Tucanos Brazilian Grill and transported to the festival grounds. The beef was marinaded for 12 hours, said Steve Oldham, president of the company enlisted to serve heaping plates of churrasco to customers.

Several blocks away, the Greek Festival was in the third day of its four-day stand, with Jim Sifantonakis, head of the gyro-making operations, estimating that about 15,000 gyros would be served over the long weekend. The lamb-and-beef mixture used for the gyros were pre-sliced and pre-spiced from Chicago, where gyros were reportedly first introduced to Americans as yet unaware that they needed tzatziki sauced meat.

Chris Floor was chairman of the souvlaki operations, overseeing the grilling of 5,100 chicken skewers and 13,000 pork skewers. The 6,000 pounds of pork and 2,000 pounds of chicken had arrived in July, when local Greek restaurateurs butchered the meat and spiced it with salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano, before freezing the cubes until a week before the festival, Floor said. After the meat thawed and was grilled, it was bathed in a savory blend of lemon juice and chicken broth immediately before being served, said Randy Bathemess, souvlaki station volunteer. Despite all the work, "gyros kick our butt" when it comes to sales, he said.

Inside a warehouse attached to the cathedral was Steve Saltas, mingling 1,600 pounds of stifado (beef stew) that was made with red wine, red wine vinegar, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and "a lot of Greek love," he said. The stew had been made back in June and frozen until a few days before the festival. The last step, though, was adding pearl onions to the stew, introduced late in the process to retain their sweetness.

Besides the dancing, the most identifiable element of the festival was the lamb being roasted on a spit just west of the festival's massive white tent. The lamb Saturday morning was one of 14 that were spit-roasted during the festival, even though Basil Chelemes — one-half of the cooks running the booth called Basil & Ted's Excellent Lamb Adventure — admitted that the spit was mostly for show. The real stars of the booth were the six legs of lamb roasting inside each of five covered charcoal grills, spiced with garlic and oregano. More than 210 legs of lamb would be sold from the booth over the duration of the festival, said Ted Giannopoulos.

Men are normally associated with the worship of meat, but they weren't the only ones cooking at the Greek Festival. Off to one side of the cathedral was a group of grandmothers and mothers crafting dolmathes — stuffed grapevine leaves.

"They don't want men to mess with them," said Dimitri Tsagaris, parish council president and festival chair.

As good as dolmathes are, it is often hard to find room for them, because, after all, (loukaniko) sausage and Keftedes (meatballs) need to be consumed. Meat makes us strong, and the Olympics are only four years away.

dburger@sltrib.com

Still time to get a taste of Greece

P The Salt Lake Greek Festival continues from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at 279 S. 300 West in Salt Lake City. Admission is $3.