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Eat through September 

Two festivals not to miss

Anyone who has ever lived in Charlotte during September knows this: September's perfect weather, with temperatures ranging from 63 to 82 degrees, is the reason many people move here (OK except in 1989 when a hurricane hit).

September has also become synonymous with food -- great food, in fact. From the simple cotton candy at the 44-year-old Festival in the Park (Sept. 18 through 21, www.festivalinthepark.org) to the larger International Festival at UNCC (Saturday, Sept. 27, Barnhardt Student Activity Center at UNC-Charlotte, 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.), this month seems the perfect time to situate Charlotte Shout.

Shout has garnered national press for its Culinary Arts Experience (Sept. 26 and 27, 801 W. Trade St., www.charlotteshout.com) with foods from area restaurants, cooking demonstrations and celebrity chefs like Martin Yan, Cat Cora, and Curtis Stone -- and for the 6th Annual Blues, Brews & BBQ barbecue competition (Sept. 12 and 13, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. North Tryon between 6th and 11th streets).

But two other September festivals are not to be missed.

Yiasou Greek Festival, hosted by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, started its run in 1978 and is now one of the most successful and largest cultural events in the city.

Of all their foods, the Greek pastries are the stars. These pastries, all made by church volunteers during the weeks before the event, include cookies and various sweets made from phyllo (aka filo) dough. This is the only place where such a large selection of freshly made Greek pastries is offered for sale, and these are sold by the piece. The baklava and kataïfi, the pastry that looks like shredded wheat, are this season's must haves. Fresh kataïfi (aka konafa in Arabic speaking countries) is impossible to find around town. Also, be sure to try the galaktoboureko, a custard-filled phyllo pastry.

Not in the pastry section, but near the front entrance is the loukamades shop. Loukamades are typically sold out of a truck or made at home in Greece. Since these doughnuts need to be consumed immediately, these, too, are hard to find in Charlotte. Traditionally, each loukamade is formed by hand with a spoon and then dropped into oil. But the Greek festival sells in such large quantities that the production has become automated, with a machine dropping the small balls into the oil -- and then a volunteer scoops them up and sprinkles them with sugar and cinnamon. These are sold in both large (12 pieces) and small boxes.

Gloria Kontoulas, one of Yiasou organizers, noted that all the recipes used at the event are church members' family recipes. Most of the original members of the Holy Trinity came from two communities in Greece: Karpenisi, a mountainous town in central Greece, and Arahova, another mountain community near Delphi. From the latter area comes souvlaki, a popular Greek fast food dish of traditionally skewered cubes lamb, pork, or finfish. Today, most souvlaki is the faster cooking chicken. Kontoulas said this is one of the more popular dishes for Greek Americans (who make many of the other dishes at home) at the festival.

The best deal is the pastichio (pasta with ground beef and béchamel) entrée ($9). All dinners include spanakopita (bigger portions this year), a domade, (excellent and can be purchased in the Bakaliko Grocery Store), a Greek salad and bread. The lamb, chicken and baked fish entrees also include a small serving of pastichio. These entrees can be consumed on site or bought at the drive through.

Yiasou Greek Festival, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 600 East Blvd., Sept. 4 through 6, Hours: 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon until 8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $2.00, children 12 and under free. Drive-up (corner of East Boulevard and Winthrop Avenue) offers combination dinner plates, gyro and souvlaki sandwiches, and pre-boxed pastries.

Also not to be missed are the wonderful street foods at the 14th Annual Festival of India. This year, the event in moving into the street in order to accommodate the expected crowd of 7,000. (North Tryon Street will be closed between Trade to 5th Streets.) The 2008 vendor list includes: Woodlands, Namaste India, Udipi, Chaat 'n' Chai, Bombay Cuisine, Tamarind, Planet Smoothie, Bombay Chat, Rajbhog Foods, and Siristi.

Street food in India has the emotional appeal that state fair funnel cakes and corn dogs do here. In India, these fast foods of the street are called chaat, which comes from a Hindi verb to lick -- as in "to lick your plate clean." I was told by one event organizer that if you look hard enough in Charlotte you can find all the dishes available at the event. Festival of India, however, offers them side by side.

What's good? Pani puri, one of the most popular street foods, is a bevy of crispy, hollow, golf-ball-sized spheres in which you stuff a savory mix of potatoes and onions and then douse with a tamarind sauce. Another favorite chaat is bhel puri, a dish with puffed rice and crispy noodles, vegetables and mint. Or try the masala dosa, the enormous south Indian lentil and rice crepe; or crispy samosa, a spicy Indian empanada. If you are unsure, a longer line usually indicates a popular food. Have what everyone else is having.

Festival of India, North Tryon Street in front of the Blumenthal, Sept. 6 and 7, No credit cards. Price range for the food is $2 to $6. Tokens. Hours: Noon until 7 p.m.

Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, and new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine events? To contact Tricia, send information via e-mail (no attachments, please).

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