• Steven Keith

St. George Orthodox dinner returns as a drive-through affair

As chairwoman of St. George Orthodox Cathedral’s annual Middle Eastern dinner, Loretta Haddy knows how much it means to the church and surrounding community to host this event.

Making grape leaf rolls for the St. George dinner. (Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail)
Making grape leaf rolls for the St. George dinner. (Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail)

But as a former epidemiologist, she also knows how important it is to keep the public safe during the continued grip of the COVID pandemic.


At this year’s modified drive-through dinner, the church hopes to accomplish both.


A beloved local tradition started by “a small group of church ladies” more than 85 years ago, the popular dinner usually offers the public a chance to come into the church to enjoy a dinner of traditional Lebanese and Middle Eastern dishes lovingly prepared using recipes passed down through generations.


During last fall’s rapid spread of COVID cases, however, St. George cancelled the dinner for the first time in its history.


It was a difficult decision, Haddy said, and one she’s glad they didn’t have to make again.

“We look forward to this event every year and it’s something the public enjoys as well, so we really wanted to find a way to continue the tradition as best we can,” said Haddy, whose own grandmother used to prepare food for these dinners back in the 1930s and 40s.


Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail
Photo by Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail

“We’ve always used gloves and hair coverings when preparing food for our dinners,” Haddy explained. “So we felt if we put even more strict protocols in place, like also wearing K95 masks and not having the public inside the building, we could offer a safe alternative this year.”


By having guests drive through and pick up their orders to go, Haddy said they can go home and enjoy a meal around the table while staying inside their own family bubble.


“We’re safe, they’re safe and we’re still serving the community by helping them enjoy our Middle Eastern food.”


New this year is the ability to order items a la carte, instead of simply ordering a full dinner plate that may have some items you don’t like as much.


On the menu are cabbage rolls stuffed with spiced ground beef and rice, grape leaf rolls, kibbee, stewed green beans, buttered rice with orzo, salad, hummus and sweet baklawa, featuring filo dough layers with nuts and drenched in butter and syrup.


All food will be packaged in microwaveable and freezer-safe containers, with instructions on how to safely reheat and store the food at home.


A full menu is available online.
A full menu is available online.

Guests can also order items from an online “grocery store” to pick up that day as well, including pita and flatbread, olives, dates, grape leaves, tahini, pickled turnips and beets, orzo, whole and fine bulgur wheat, phyllo dough, orange blossom water, assorted treats and a host of dried herbs, spices and seasonings.


There’s even a Syrian-Lebanese cookbook for sale with many of the church ladies’ tried-and-true recipes, so you can put some of those ingredients to good use at home.


But the real benefit of this event, Haddy said, goes far beyond the food.


“The dinner has been such a great success through the years because we’ve been able to open our doors and invite the public in to meet our people, learn about our faith and enjoy our food.”


And that food, she added, is very much a part of their culture.


“The ladies here get so much joy preparing their treasured family recipes, making the same foods their mothers and grandmothers have made for this dinner through the years. It’s such an honor to carry on that tradition.”


Haddy said she knows many people will miss the “personal touch” their usual sit-down dinner provides, but they feel a take-out event is the best and safest thing to do right now.

“Hopefully in 2022 we’ll be able to go back to the way it was.”


Orders must be placed in advance, either online or by calling the church, and food can be scheduled to pick up in the downtown church’s Lee Street parking lot between 12:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24. For more information on the food offered or to place an order, visit www.stgeorgecharleston.org or call (304) 346-0106.


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Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.

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