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Filo and Friendship

Church women start early preparing countless pastries for annual Greek festival.


Anyone who has attended a Greek festival knows the average time it takes to consume a piece of baklava or a couple of butter cookies is slightly under one minute.

If only making the pastries was that simple.

Though the annual Ventura County Greek Festival in Thousand Oaks is still four weeks away, the women of Camarillo's St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, the event sponsor, already are toiling away in the kitchen, filo dough remnants strewn about them.

A core group of 15 bakers and a handful of other volunteers actually began preparing the desserts in March, starting with those that can be frozen until the big event, June 7-8. The group meets once or twice a week to whittle down the massive menu.

On one day last week, the women prepared more than 4,800 pieces of baklava. By the end of the festival, they will have baked more than 25,000 pieces of pastry.

"We enjoy it," said Katherine Pappas, a co-chair of the pastry committee. "We have a lot of camaraderie. We sit down and eat lunch together, joke, laugh. It's a lot of work, we get tired, but it's a lot of fun."

Pappas has been a co-chair of the group for about eight years, and has prepared food for various church-sponsored festivals in the United States and Canada for the past 40 years. Having grown up in a family of bakers, she seems a natural for the work.

"My father was a baker in Canton, Ohio, and I used to help in the bakery," Pappas said. "My mother was a very good cook and baker in Greek food. I learned through her and then through my mother-in-law."

Like her mother, Pappas said, she enjoys preparing Greek cuisine.

"Greek food was all my mother ever made. I do other things, but I cook a lot of Greek," Pappas said. "My kids and grandkids like it."

Of course, the popularity of Greek dishes is pretty much universal, as the length of the food booths at Greek festivals would indicate. Pappas said it's a combination of the flavor and the uniqueness of the food that draws people to it.

"Lamb is excellent, and people like the seasonings, the lemon and the oregano in Greek foods," she said. "The butter cookies just melt in your mouth, and the layered pastries baked with filo dough and nuts in between--they are just different than the typical pies, cakes and cookies."

And they're a mere four weeks and just under a minute away.


A cardboard cutout of John Wayne holding a Winchester rifle stands in the upper right corner of the restaurant. A framed photo of Jimmy Stewart from the film "Winchester '73" hangs on the back wall. A Winchester rifle is mounted above the bar.

The establishment? Winchesters Grill & Saloon, pardner, and it's scheduled to open May 19 in downtown Ventura. But despite its obviously Western theme, this is no ordinary honky-tonk.

"It's not good old boy Western, it's more new wave Western," said Matt Widmer, a partner in the establishment. "It's Central Coast Western."

That means Santa Maria-style fixin's--a lot of sourdough bread with salsa, tri-tip and beans. And for the more adventurous--turkey chops, ostrich and buffalo, Widmer said.

Widmer co-owns the bar and grill with Sam Book and J.R. Ford--the same threesome that operates Kings Tavern in Santa Barbara.

For Widmer, Winchesters marks a return to the Ventura restaurant scene. He previously owned Hudson's Grill and Hornblower's. Widmer ventured downtown this time, he said, because of the renovation of the Ventura Theatre and the pending addition of a multiplex cinema.

"People told us, 'Don't go to old town.' But I'm betting everything I own that this will be another State Street someday," he said, referring to Santa Barbara's bustling thoroughfare.

Winchesters, which will be as much bar as grill with a selection of more than 100 beers, initially will be open for dinner only. But Widmer said to expect lunch on weekends in the very near future.

The restaurant is located at 632 E. Main St.

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