The 32nd Annual Glendi Greek festival, a snowbird and locals favorite, will kick off Thursday and run through the weekend at the St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road. The church's dedicated staff and its cohort of volunteers began preparations for the festival weeks ago and they are still under way. Much of this year's festival will replicate last year's successful event. The most significant changes are found on the fest's food menu and appetizer table.
Lightly breaded fried calamari and saganaki, a fried cheese, were added to the lineup of Greek appetizers. A cold plate of appetizers including hummus and taramosalata, made from carp roe, are also new additions. The dinner menu changes daily with a different special featured on every night of the festival. Shish kabobs are debuting on Saturday night for the first time in St. Barbara's history.
All of the food, save delicate Greek pastries from Tarpon Springs, is made from scratch for the festival. Popi Ameres, founding chef of the Popi's Place restaurants in Manatee County, is the lead for the volunteer team that prepares the cuisine.
"It's a lot of work but a lot of fun, too," Ameres said. "It's like a big party."
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And the Greek fare should appeal to people of all backgrounds and taste preferences; it's not spicy but it's certainly not bland, either.
"We use a lot of cinnamon and allspice so it is not very spicy," said Lakis Pape, a volunteer on the kitchen staff. "It is mild but still packed with flavor."
Guests at Glendi can try several Greek wines, Greek beer and Ouzo, a Greek anise-flavored liquor. Soft drinks and water will be available as well.
Beyond the culinary creations, the Greek festival offers a chance to watch traditional Greek dances. Adolescents from the church's youth ministry will show off Syrtos, Kalamatianos, Hassapikos and Syrtaki, just a few names of the 20 or so dances to be performed at the festival.
Jasmin Dakkak, 17, is grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the youth ministry and dance at the festival.
"Growing up we have families who were blessed to be a part of this parish," Dakkak said. "Dancing is something unique about each of us and Glendi helps us bring awareness to the Greek culture."
After enjoying food, drink and dancing, Glendi attendees can purchase Greek jewelry, clothing, cooking utensils, cheese and olive oil or book a vacation to Greece with travel agents. The marketplace will feature 18 exhibitors this year. Yiayia's Attic offers a treasure trove for bargain hunters, as well.
Instead of charging admission on Thursday night, the church will collect donations at the door for Take Stock in Children Sarasota, which provides assistance to low-income and at-risk students to help them "escape the cycle of poverty through education," according to the organization's website.
Doors open at 11 a.m. and stay open until 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and hours are noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Parking at the church is free and when the St. Barbara lot is full, attendees are encouraged to park one mile north at the Church of the Trinity. A free shuttle is available Friday through Sunday from the alternate parking lot to the festival and back. Admission is $4 and children 12 and under get in for free.
More details and admission information can be found at bradentonorthodox.com or call St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church at (941) 355-2616.