MANATEE -- With four days of festival, 200 volunteers, 12,000 visitors, 1,500 half chickens and 2,500 lamb shanks, Bradenton and Sarasota can Greek out next week.
The 32nd annual Greek Glendi festival, a snowbird and locals favorite, opens Thursday and runs through the weekend at the St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road.
The church staff and volunteers began preparations for the festival weeks ago. Much of this year's festival will replicate last year's successful event, organizers say.
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 every night. Shish kabobs debut Saturday night.
All festival food, save delicate Greek pastries from Tarpon Springs, is made from scratch. Popi Ameres, founding chef of the Popi's Place restaurants in Manatee County, leads the volunteer cuisine preparation team.
"It's a lot of work but a lot of fun, too," Ameres said. "It's like a big party."
Greek fare appeals 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 kitchen staff volunteer. "It is mild but still packed with flavor."
Guests at Glendi can try several Greek wines and beer and ouzo, a Greek anise-flavored liquor. Soft drinks and water will be available as well.
Beyond the culinary creations, the festival showcases traditional Greek dances. Adolescents from the church youth ministry will show off syrtos, kalamatianos, hassapikos and syrtaki, just to name a few 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."
Glendi attendees can also 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 Thursday night, the church will collect donations at the door for Take Stock in Children Sarasota, which helps low-income and at-risk students "escape the cycle of poverty through education," according to the organization's website.
Doors open at 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Parking at the church is free. When the St. Barbara lot is full, attendees are encouraged to park 1 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.
Information: At bradentonorthodox.com or call St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church at 941-355-2616.