The first week in October brings a true struggle for a hired belly in the South Sound.
Schnitzel first? Or gyros and souvlaki?
Can I really stuff my face full of bratwurst, pickle soup, potato pancakes, souvlaki, gyros, baklava, calamari, skordalia sauce and Greek coffee – deep breath – all in a single afternoon? And live to write about it?
You bet I can. And I do. Every year. Because the volunteer-run Greek Festival in Tacoma and the ode to German eats and brew at Oktoberfest Northwest in Puyallup are what I consider the region’s finest food festivals.
That they’re always the same weekend gives me grief because they both deserve your attendance, but if I only had time or money to go to one, I’d stick with the Greek Festival.
Read below for summaries of both festivals, held Friday through Sunday.
And here’s one more for your calendar: On Oct. 20, the Sons of Norway will have their lutefisk dinner and bake sale. See box for details.
In its 52nd year, the Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church is a community staple that donates a portion of proceeds to a nonprofit organization. This year’s recipient will be Fish Food
My favorite part of the festival is that it’s free, except for the cost of food. You could leave full and spend less than $10, making this festival one of the most affordable.
The festival is run by an army of church volunteers armed with oregano, lemon and garlic, and they’re not afraid to use their food weapons in copious quantities. If you don’t leave reeking of Greek food, you’re doing it wrong.
Preparation for the threeday eating festival begins in the summer. Habib Serhan, chairman of the festival, gave me some stunning figures over the phone this week: Church volunteers will bake 21,000 baklava, assemble 5,500 gyro sandwiches and turn out 4,900 dolmades. The church estimates about 9,000 attendees will walk through the doors at St. Nicholas.
There are several ways to dine at the event.
First, there’s a multicourse seated dinner serving chicken every day, fish on Friday and Saturday, and lamb on Sunday. Cost is $12-$14, and dinner comes with Greek salad, braised string beans, rice pilaf, bread, and coffee or tea. For bargain hunters, if you eat between 2-4 p.m. Saturday, you also get free dessert with dinner. A business lunch is discounted to $8 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday. Seatings are continuous, show up when you want, no reservations needed.
My favorite way to dine is the a la carte dining tent where church volunteers set up booths offering gyro sandwiches, calamari with skordalia sauce, pork souvlaki, Greek fries, Greek salad, countless Greek pastries, Greek coffee (complete with dregs) and beverages.
The booths take tokens that can be purchased by cash or credit; leftover tokens can be returned for cash.
A la carte items are bargain priced at $1-$6. Also in the tent is a deli selling take-home foods and Greek grocery items.
Don’t miss the kitchen window adjacent to the tent where tokens can buy dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and tyropitakia (cheese turnovers) every day .
Finally, there’s one more way to dine: bakery takeout. Trays of baklava and pastry combo packs are sold upstairs in the church.
Not only is Greek Festival a weekend of excellent food, it’s a chance for locals to peer inside a church that’s a regional destination because of the elaborate iconography on the church’s dome. Church members give tours all weekend long.
Oktoberfest Northwest at the Washington State Fair Showplex in Puyallup is a slick operation, run by the organizers who also produce Taste of Tacoma and Bite of Seattle. Because it’s a large-scale festival, it’s also more expensive. For $10, you gain admission to the festival that pays homage to German beer, food and entertainment, complete with singing and a woman who yodels from a giant swing in the middle of the Showplex.
There’s one big reason to attend the event and that is the food from Bruno’s, the Parkland restaurant run by Bruno and Krystyna Tomaszewska. The couple got their start in the food business selling their cabbage rolls at the Tacoma Farmers Market, eventually opening the tiny Bruno’s Cafe in Lakewood in 2010 before moving to Parkland in 2011 to a much larger space and much bigger fame.
In February, Bruno’s European Restaurant was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Business hasn’t slowed since.
Guy Fieri lavished praise on Bruno’s frikadelle. I like Bruno’s for their schnitzel and pickle soup, their outstanding cabbage rolls and comfy environs serving German, Polish and other European dishes. If you can’t make it to Oktoberfest this weekend, then definitely pay a visit to the Parkland restaurant later (253-719-7181,brunoseuropeanrestaurant. com ).
At this weekend’s event, the Tomaszewskas will serve a similar menu to last year’s Oktoberfest, dishing up pork goulash over fadennudeln (egg noodles), cabbage rolls, potato pancakes, frikadelle, bratwurst, currywurst, pickle soup, apple strudel and bienenstich cake, all priced around $5-$9.50.
My second pick for dining at Oktoberfest is Gutes Essen Haus, serving an outstanding pork schnitzel plate for $10. The breaded pork cutlet will be served as it was last year, doused in a stunning mushroom gravy, flanked by an apple-spiked purple cabbage, warm potato salad made with a bacon vinaigrette, and as much whole-grain mustard as you can spoon onto your plate.
If you order anything else, make it the reuben ($7.50) from Crepe Chalet, which also will have a selection of savory and sweet crepes. Kaleenka Piroshky will serve their Russian turnovers ($7.50 last year) and diners also will find bratwurst from Ziegler’s ($7 last year).
Bring cash – some food booths don’t take credit.
Brew is $6 a glass and the beer list includes Warsteiner dunkel, Warsteiner Oktoberfest, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, HB Oktoberfest and Snoqualmie Harvest Moon. Buy beer tickets with cash or credit at a designated booth for age verification, then stand in line for a brew.
Entertainment is a big draw at the festival, with live German music all weekend, dancing, games for children (kids allowed until 7 p.m.) and adults and the famous wiener dog races beginning at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Sue Kidd dines anonymously, and The News Tribune pays for all meals.
52ND ANNUAL GREEK FESTIVAL Where: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1523 S. Yakima Ave., Tacoma.
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Free admission. Food prices range from $1-$6 for a la carte items to $12 -$14 for seated dinners.
Contact: 253-272-0466 or stnicholas tacoma.org.
Also: Tours of the church’s iconography will be given. Dancing every two hours on odd hours, starting at 5 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Supporting: A portion of proceeds go to Fish Food Bank
NINTH ANNUAL OKTOBERFEST NORTHWEST Where: Washington State Fair Events Center, Puyallup
When: 11 a.m.- midnight Friday and Saturday, 9:45 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $10 Friday and Saturday, $5 Sunday. Kids free. Friday admission free before 3 p.m. Parking is free.
Contact: 425-295-3262, oktoberfestnw.com
Also: Dancing, live music, games for kids and grownups, free activities for kids. Wiener dog races on Sunday. Kids welcome until 7 p.m.
NEXT UP: LUTEFISK The Sons of Norway will have a lutefisk dinner and bake sale 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 20 at Tacoma’s Normanna Hall, 1106 S. 15th St., Tacoma. Admission is $20 adults, $10 kids up to age 12, kids younger than 6 are free. Visitnorden2.com .