MANATEE -- Popi Ameres has been perfecting her rice pudding all morning.
"You put milk, sugar, spices, cinnamon, rice. And you put in very slowly. There's some more ingredients, but I keep it for myself," she said with a smile.
Ameres is in charge of preparing the food for her church's 30th Annual Greek Glendi, the festival at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church that draws thousands each year.
Ameres and an army of nearly 200 volunteers work every day to cook for the 13,000 people the festival is expected to draw. That includes preparing nearly 2,700 lamb shanks, one of the festival's most popular dishes.
The food fest, which runs Thursday through Sunday,
will feature all the Greek favorites (gyros, salad, baklava), as well as more obscure dishes such as Greek lasagna (pastitsio), Greek meatballs (soutzoukakia), and imported Greek wines such as Nemea or Naoussa. Almost all ingredients are imported from Greece, Ameres said.
Lakis Pape, a festival chairman, says Ameres' lamb shanks are the best anywhere, for three reasons: "The taste, the way they are prepared, the person who makes them."
Ameres, well-known as the owner of Greek-American diner Popi's Place, attributes her good cooking to Greek olive oil: "Fresh olive oil makes authentic."
Pape and three other chairmen began planning the fete in July.
"We never cut corners," said Pape, who has been organizing the Greek Glendi for 10 years. "For us, it's a habit now."
While the food is always the main draw, the festival will also feature St. Barbara's Hellenic dancers, a kids fun zone, a marketplace with Greek jewelry, clothing and other hand-made items, live music and guided church tours.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, the church will raffle off a new Lincoln sedan or SUV (winner's choice), a $7,500 cash prize and a trip for two to Greece. Only 1,500 raffle tickets will be sold.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at the church, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road. Admission is $4 for adults, free for children 12 and younger.
Parking is free on church grounds. A shuttle bus is available Saturday and Sunday for overflow parking at Trinity Church, 7225 Lockwood Ridge Road.
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow @sabrinarocco on Twitter.