Let’s get the statistical data out of the way quickly so we can get to the heart of what really matters.
Yes, once again this year, Saint Barbara’s annual Greek Festival, the 34th “Glendi,” will feature live Greek music and Greek dancing under huge white tents, a marketplace with vendors selling all sorts of items, a kid’s adventure zone, Greek beverages, church tours and the chance to win a a 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 or C300 or, if the winner chooses, $30,000 in cash.
Once again, the festival is four days — 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday , Friday and Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday — on the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church grounds, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota and much of the money collected goes to the church’s charities and for keeping the relatively modest church (it has 250 permanent families) going.
And, finally, once again, the festival is $4 to get in and has free parking on the church grounds and a free shuttle from The Church of the Trinity, which is also offering parking just down the road.
OK. That’s done.
Now what really counts.
Pan after pan of moussaka
To prepare enough food in case this year’s Glendi matches the all-time record four-day crowd of 18,000 set in the mid-2000s, roughly 30 church volunteers start cooking in January.
By the week of the festival, the shelves inside the huge walk-in freezer outside the kitchen are stacked with the results of their toil including hundreds of aluminum pans filled with made-from-scratch ingredients that will turn into such dishes as the all-time best Glendi seller, oven-roasted lamb shank or moussaka or spanakopita, better known as spinach pie, or fish plaki, or shish kabob or, of course, pastitsio.
On Monday, Lakis Pape, the unofficial leader of the volunteer corps — no one really has a title in the Saint Barbara kitchen, everyone is a volunteer — took a visitor into the Saint Barbara walk-in freezer to see the many many pans of moussaka which have alternating layers of sliced eggplant, potatoes and ground beef covered in a bechamel sauce.
In almost a reverent whisper and nod, Pape said: “Over there are the pans of pastitsio.”
Pastitsio is a combination of macaroni and ground beef blended with Parmesan cheese and topped with a cream bechamel sauce.
Pape showed 1,000 huge Athenian chickens, which are marinated and baked with lemon, olive oil and oregano, ready to go.
“I haven’t changed my prices in three years,” Pape said, explaining that the oven-roasted lamb shank, which includes two sides of either potatoes, rice, green beans, small Greek salad or a roll, is still the highest priced dinner at $15.
“Shish kabob, mousakka, pastitsio, Athenian chicken and fish plaki are all still $13,” Pape said.
Says Pape: “Never miss getting the avgolemono soup, which is chicken soup made with egg and lemon sauce for only $4.”
Marinated grape leaves wrapped around a mixture of rice and special seasonings, also known as dolmathakia, are still $5 this year as are the spinach and cheese pies.
There is a special area for pastries, Pape said.
There she is
In a corner of the kitchen on Monday, there she was, the heart and soul of the Glendi food experience, the goddess herself.
It was none other than Saint Barbara church member Popi Ameres, owner with her family members, including husband Emmanuel, of eight Popi’s Place restaurants in the area.
Ameres was stirring a gigantic metal pan of sauce for the fish plaki.
“Doesn’t it smell wonderful?” Ameres said.
Happiness was in the air.