For food lovers, this time of year brings Charlotte's most anticipated eats.
First up is the 37th Yiasou Greek Festival hosted by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral (600 East Blvd.) and one of the most successful events — of any kind — in Charlotte. The festival begins Thursday, Sept. 4, and ends Sunday the 7th.
Though entertaining, most don't go for the dancing or performances. They go for the food. On the a la carte menu in an area near the entertainment tents outside you will find tiropita and excellent spanakopita; pastichio; gyros (alas, processed meat); pizza; and salads. Inside are entrée plates ($11 to $14 for roast lamb) inclusive of spanakopita, dolma, salad, bread and tea. Mythos beer and a few Greek wines (the inexpensive ones) are offered inside as well.
But the best of this festival are the trays of pastries. Unless your grandmother is Greek, you won't find these elsewhere: galaktoboureko (custard in phyllo), kourambiethes (Greek wedding cookies), diples (fried pastries), karidopita (walnut cake), baklava and more. Some of these items sell out early. Also in an area near the entrance, look for the loukoumades (Greek donut holes) vendor. The festival sells these in such large quantities that the production has become automated with a machine dropping the small balls into the oil and a volunteer scooping them up and sprinkling them with a hefty dose of powdered sugar and cinnamon. There is a drive-up station on the corner of East Boulevard and Winthrop Avenue that sells dinner plates, gyro and souvlaki sandwiches, and pre-boxed pastries.
Admission is $3, and children 12 and under are free.
The following week is the 20th annual Festival of India, held Saturday, Sept. 13 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 14 from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. This festival draws almost 20,000 visitors; admission is $5 to $7, with kids under the age of 10 free. India's favorite street food, chaat, and some entrées will be offered from entrepreneurs along Tryon between Trade and 4th streets. This year's vendor list includes locally owned Indian Spice Café, Persis Indian Grill, Saffron Indian Cuisine and Fu-Lin Restaurant, as well as regional and national vendors. Food prices range from $1 to $5. Look for pani puri: crispy, hollow, golf-ball-sized spheres stuffed with a savory mix of potatoes, onions and tamarind sauce; or another favorite street food: bhel puri. The latter is child-friendly with puffed rice and crispy noodles, vegetables and mint.
Food vendors will be on Tryon Street; performances are on Trade and Tryon streets and inside the Belk Theater. Admission for inside performances and exhibits, including the educational "Foods of India," will be located in the Blumenthal.
The 24th annual Latin American Festival will be held Sunday, Oct. 12 from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Street foods from nine countries will be featured. Here's your must-try list: tacos al pastor and elotes (corn on the cob) from Mexico; brochetas de puerco (pork kebabs) with mojito from Panama; arepas and empanadas from Colombia; pupusas revueltas (a mix of cheese, beans, and pork rinds) from El Salvador; pinchos (kebabs) and arroz con gandules (red rice and pigeon peas) from Puerto Rico; Cuban sandwiches (from where else?); rotisserie chicken from Peru; paella from Spain; and coxinha (fried chicken croquettes) and pão de queijo (cheese bun) from Brazil. Take friends: you can sample more.
The Latin American Festival takes over Symphony Park at South Park Mall (4400 Sharon Road), and admission is $5, children under 8 free.
Most people believe that the Q in the Q.C. stands for queen, but it's really about 'cue — barbecue. Mallard Creek Barbecue, the granddaddy of Charlotte's barbecue fundraisers, is celebrating its 85th year. Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church (11400 Mallard Creek Road) will open the gates on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 10 a.m. During the preceding week, church volunteers will make 14,000 pounds of barbecue, two tons of slaw, and 2,500 gallons of Brunswick stew. They are expecting 20,000 hungry guests. A $10 plate includes barbecue, South Carolina-styled Brunswick stew, cole slaw, apple sauce and bread.
The 12th annual Q-City Charlotte BBQ Championship, North Carolina's Official Memphis BBQ Network Championship Cook-Off, will be held Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 18 in downtown from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days. (Exact location unknown as of press time.) Teams will again compete for the Governor's Cup Trophy, but there is plenty of barbecue to taste. New to the event is a "people's choice" tasting area. Yum.