Did you miss the recent sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding in theaters? No worries —you can still celebrate some of the best Greek family traditions on May 1 during Orthodox Easter. Featuring not only healthy Mediterranean cuisine that’s vegetarian-friendly, but earthy, unctuous lamb rubbed with herbs and garlic, roasted, spit-fired or added to soups, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re Greek or not, make a new tradition with a taste of the Old Country at one of these delicious restaurants for Greek Orthodox Easter dining.
Ouzo Bay, Baltimore, Maryland
The weeks leading up to Easter are a great time for Ouzo Bay to showcase their year-round signature dish of fresh whole fish during this period when most Greeks abstain from eating meat. But after the late-night mass the evening before Easter, the tables become boisterous with the spirit of community and celebration not only of the holiest of days but of the feast: whole roasted lamb, platters of lamb chops and shanks, family-style sides of fasolakia (braised green beans), gigantes (giant lima beans), spanakorizo (Spanish rice), horta (sautéed greens), and other roasted vegetables. Ouzo Bay offers its full dinner menu on Greek Easter Sunday with many of the same dishes and several traditional desserts to satisfy anyone whose sweet tooth wasn’t fulfilled by their Easter basket, including baklava, galaktoboureko (vanilla custard), and sokolatopita (chocolate cake). Make a reservation at Ouzo Bay.
Loi Estiatorio, New York, New York
Holidays are always about family in Greece, says Maria Loi, but none makes her smile more than Easter. “It was a special time for me because my father would let me help him roast the lamb and work with the meat, like one of the boys,” she said. “I want everyone to experience the same happiness and joy I do!” She brings smiles to the masses with the spit-roasted whole lamb she grew up making in Roumeli in central Greece. “The lamb from Roumeli is always better, as is the tsoureki (a traditional sweet Greek Easter bread) because of the flora in the region – everything tastes brighter, cleaner, and fresher, so much so that often people will seek to spend their Easter holiday with family in Roumeli. I was very lucky to have grown up there!” Some of her seasonal specialties include kokoretsi (lamb intestines wrapped around seasoned offal) and magheritsa (lamb offal soup), though Loi Estiatorio regulars can also enjoy her crowd-pleaser, the feta mac n’ cheese. “When I was growing up, we ate a very similar dish, and my siblings and I loved it,” Loi said. “When I came to the States, I saw how popular the American version was but also how rich and fattening it was. I thought to myself that I could make it better and healthier, with Greek olive oil and feta cheese … and I was right!” Wrap up your meal with her take on sokolatopita. Make a reservation at Loi Estiatorio.
Kipos Greek Taverna, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Most chefs wouldn’t embrace fasting, but for chef Giorgios Bakatsias it’s an important ritual and a tribute to his childhood growing up in Karpenisi, Greece, with his parents, brother Terry, and sister Olga, who now cook with him at Kipos. “Fasting cleanses the soul and your palate,” he says. “It’s not just a religious act but … [it] makes me able to distinguish and identify different flavors” afterward. Eggs play an important role not just for eating, but for play: each year eggs hand-dyed by Olga are used by diners to try and crack each others’ on Sunday. It is believed that the diner with the last egg will enjoy a year of good fortune. Terry’s rolo kima, a Greek Easter meatloaf, is stuffed with egg, as is the sweet braided tsoureki bread. And, the star of the show is savory roasted lamb with garlic, oregano, thyme, and olive oil. Make a reservation at Kipos Greek Taverna.
Pelekasis at Wink & Nod, Boston, Massachusetts
One of chef Brendan Pelley’s earliest food memories is the smell of slow-roasted lamb with garlic, so this season’s specialty of leg of lamb with horta (lemon-braised greens), lamb-fat-roasted potatoes, rosemary, garlic and herb puree is no surprise. Feeding four to eight people, Pelley’s $150 feast (prepared with 24 hours’ advance notice) is an homage to what his family ate on Greek Easter and his papou (grandfather), who helmed weekly Sunday lamb roasts. Pelekasis — Pelley’s original family name—is an exclusive pop-up inside Wink & Nod that is so popular its run has been extended through June. Make a reservation at Wink & Nod.