Come early for the baklava. And save some of it to put in your ice cream.
Those are just a couple of tips regulars and insiders keep in mind when they head out to the Greek Food Festival, now celebrating its 30th year.
It's a huge event that covers the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church's parking lot, grounds and ballroom with food, crafts and performances.
"You can spend a good couple of hours with good food and entertainment," says co-chairman and volunteer coordinator Stephanie Wilcox. "When you haven't had enough and want more, you can drive through the drive-thru and come again tomorrow -- if you decide you need more baklava."
The menu is full of traditional foods from Greece and the Middle East, which all have their devotees. Some get excited over the thought of the falafel (fried chickpeas). For others, it's the pastitsio (Greek lasagna) or the souvlaki (kebabs).
This year there will be a few new potential favorites: Armenian and Greek pizzas, kataifi (pastries) and tsoutzoukaki (Greek meatballs).
There's always the drive-thru for those who just want to satisfy a quick craving, but then they'd miss out on everything else the festival has to offer, like the Old World Market, a room of crafts, Russian nesting dolls, jewelry, olive oil, frozen meals, pastries and Pete's Famous Salad Dressing.
And then, of course, there's the entertainment, with many children showing off their Middle Eastern and Greek dancing skills, along with presentations from Irish, Scottish, Indian and Russian dancers.
Every year, booth after booth of foods and the full schedule of performers represent the various cultures of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. Wilcox points out that while the church was founded by Greek immigrants and the Greek name is in the church and the festival, there are more than a dozen nationalities represented in the parish.
"We have people from Jordan, Egypt, Romania, India," she says. "It's one big family but we're very ethnic."
One thing the festival definitely is is family oriented.
"No baby sitter required," Wilcox proclaims.
There are plenty of things for children to do and see, and if the little one turns up his nose at gyros and spanakopita, the church's youth group has a booth with hot dogs and Sundaes in Athens -- vanilla ice cream with baklava sprinkles.
"That's one of the best things," Wilcox says. "You need to try that. Baklava will never be the same again."
The festival has grown over the years and while church members jump in and wear many hats to keep it all running, it has grown well past the point that parishioners can handle alone. That's where the charities and volunteers come in.
Each year, organizations submit letters to become one of the festival's spotlight charities. This year, the charities are Arkansas Children's Hospital, CARTI, Community Connections, Easter Seals, Harmony Health, Wolf Street Foundation and Youth Home. On festival weekend, volunteers from those organizations pitch in.
Wilcox says, "When we hit the weekend of the festival, here they come with all their volunteers and energize us and help us get through the weekend. They're part of our church family for the weekend."
For instance, Easter Seals sponsors a free crafts area for children and Heart of Arkansas United Way will also be there with a booth to collect donations for tornado relief.
The festival draws guests by the score, flooding into the church, but the church is well-practiced in accommodating so many visitors.
"Don't be scared of the traffic!" Wilcox says.
She points out there is free trolley service from Asbury United Methodist Church and Pulaski Academy down the street. There will also be parking at Agape Church across the street.
One thing visitors are encouraged not to overlook is the church tour and an orthodoxy class for people to learn more about the denomination.
"Please don't miss the church tours," Wilcox says. "Our church is beautiful."
The weekend of cultural celebration, fellowship and family fun has become a favorite in central Arkansas, one that, like the church that sponsors it, draws in people of all types from all over.
"There's nothing else in Arkansas like it," Wilcox says. "You don't meet people who don't say, 'I love the festival! When is it? I can't wait to come.' It's something, once you've been, I think you look forward to it every year. We've been really blessed."
Weekend on 05/15/2014
Print Headline: Greek Food Festival turns 30, celebrates in style