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Opa: Greeks in Chicago

Chicago currently has the third largest Greek population of any city in the world. Why did these immigrants come to Chicago, and what impact has the Greek community had on the city? What customs and traditions did Greek immigrants bring and retain in the New World? And how has Greek ethnic identity fared as generations pass and the connection to the homeland fades? These are all questions that we seek to answer in this television tour of local Greek culture.

Viewers get a strong feeling for the stoic, hard-working, proud and loyal nature of our Greek immigrants, as well as their humor and love for their homeland. Customs portrayed include the singing of native songs and one of the oldest and most sacred rites -- a Greek Orthodox wedding.

"All the Greeks who came here, we're not kings or princes, dukes. They came with five dollars. They came with nothing. They saved their money, they educated their children, they educated us," says John Kass of the Chicago Tribune as he describes how they came here with little more than hope and determination. They retained the spirit of their homeland while contributing to the growth of the city.

As the Greeks prospered, so did Chicago. "Opa! The Greeks in Chicago" shines a spotlight on this tenacious community that has offered Chicago 2,200 restaurants – and much more.

Special Chicago Stories Web Feature
The Chicago Greek Experience from A to Z

Here's a wealth of Grecian cultural resources, much of it right here in our backyard, and/or available right here on the Internet, with some fun facts thrown in along the way!

A is for Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral
This cathedral at 1017 N. LaSalle Street was built by the first Greek Orthodox congregation in Chicago. It is modeled after the Cathedral Church in Athens, Greece. 312 / 664-5485.

B is for Billy Goat Tavern
Greek-owned since 1934, this famous restaurant at 430 N. Michigan gained national notoriety when "Saturday Night Live" captured Sam Sianis' memorable mantra: "Cheeseborger cheeseborger, cheeseborger, no fries-cheeps, no Pepsi-Coke!" 312 / 222-1525.

C is for Carson's Ribs
Now in many locations in and around Chicago (plus one in Florida), the first Carson's Ribs was opened in Skokie by Chris Karkazis, the son of a Greek immigrant.

D is for Dove Bars
Mike Stefanos recalled for us how his father gave birth to the Dove Bar in 1956 at his south side candy store: "My Dad had the best candy and ice cream around, and my brother and I were guilty of taking off after the ice cream truck when he heard the bells. And that hurt my Dad's feelings, so he decided to make a bar that would keep us around the store."

E is for Easter
Easter, Pascha in Greek, is the most sacred and celebrated of all Greek holidays. The Greek Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar when calculating Easter and that it why it does not always celebrate Easter on the same date as the Catholic or Protestant Church does.

F is for Festivals
For a taste of Greek food, music, culture, and entertainment!

G is for Greek Town
Visit chicagosgreektown.com for a profile of Greek Town on historic Halsted street: its history, restaurants, shops and other attractions.

H is for Hull House
Hull House was an oasis for the early Greeks in Chicago, and other immigrant groups, offering English lessons, job training and placement, and an introduction into American culture combined with a respect for the culture left behind. A Jane Addams' Hull House Museum http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/hull_house.html is owned and operated by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I is for Index
The Ancient Greek World Index will lead you back in time to such topics as the details of daily life, the Greek view of death, and the archaeological importance of Greek pottery.

J is for John Kass
The noted Chicago Tribune page three columnist was born on Chicago's south side, the son of a Greek immigrant grocer.

K is for Koraes School
The Koraes Elementary School of the Saints Constantine and Helen parish at 11025-45 S. Roberts Road in Palos Hills opened in 1910. Students are taught the same curriculum as public school students, but also learn Greek language, history, and religion. 708 / 974-3402.

L is for Language
Visit Learn to Speak Greek to find key phrases that cover the basics of dining out, getting around, shopping, hotels, and time and numbers.

M is for Mythology
Visit greekmythology.com if you don't know Apollo from Aphrodite, or Pan from Persephone.

N is for News
Athens News provides news from Greece online in English. (Greek Star) is a newspaper published weekly at 4710 N. Lincoln, here in Chicago.

O is for Opa!
The Mexicans have queso fundido, the Swiss have fondue, and the Greeks have saganaki. Any Greek restaurant in Chicago is likely to feature waiters setting this dish aflame and parading it through the room, accompanied by an appreciative "Opa!" from the guests.

P is for Parthenon (Restaurant)
Enjoy such selections as mousaka, melitzanopita, dolmandes, pastitsio, pasta tourkolimano, roast leg of lamb, and chicken or beef kapama, at 314 S. Halsted. 773 / 726-2407.

Q is for Quick Info
For fast information about Greek clubs, music, organizations, radio, restaurants, travel, and more, check out GreekChicago.Com.

R is for Rodity's
The specialties at this restaurant at 222 S. Halsted include endless choices of lamb, "the meat the Greeks gave soul to." Their ambience has been described as "home away from home." 312 / 454-0800.

S is for Socrates (School)
Founded in 1907, Socrates Greek American School at provides an elementary education enriched with the teachings of the Greek language, history and culture, and the Greek Orthodox faith. The school's new home is on the grounds of the Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral at 5701 N. Redwood Drive. 773 / 622-6323.

T is for Tsatziki
That's the sauce with sour cream and cucumber that makes your gyros sandwich authentic!

U is for U Should Check Out This Museum!
Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center, at 168 North Michigan Avenue, on the 4th Floor, is devoted to preserving Greek immigrant history and perpetuating the creative expression of the Hellenic people. 312 / 726-1234.

V is for Van Buren Street
Stand at the corner of Van Buren and Halsted and you can then proceed to walk to many of the delights of Greek Town!

W is for Warm Service
The spirit of Greece is captured well at the award-winning Greek Islands Restaurant at 200 S. Halsted. 312 / 782-9855.

X is for eXcuse Me, Where Can I Hear Some Greek Radio?
Hellenic Radio is a 24-hour Greek radio station in the Greek language, airing on WHCI/Chicago, 107.5 FM.

Y is for Yiayia
That's Greek for Grandmother!

Z is for Zorba's
This Greek restaurant at 301 S. Halsted is open 24 hours, so you have no excuse not to satisfy your cravings for gyros and saganaki at any time of the day or night! 312 / 454-1397.

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