Event Name: Rochester Greek Festival 2014
Purpose: Bringing the aromas, tastes, sounds, and traditions of Greece to Rochester and fundraiser for the Bivona Child Advocacy Center
Location: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 962 East Avenue, Rochester, NY
When: Thursday, May 29th, 30th, 31st and June 1st from 11am – 11pm
It’s festival season here in Rochester, NY! It’s a time when we finally emerge from a long, snowy winter and look forward to outdoor celebrations, ranging from festivals featuring lilacs and roses, to arts, crafts, beer and apples. It’s also time for various cultural festivals, celebrating the food, music and the diverse backgrounds which make up our community. One such celebration is the annual Rochester Greek Festival.
Hosted by Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, the annual Rochester Greek Festival was a feast for all the senses, including tasty and aromatic foods, sounds of toe-tapping music, sights of coordinated dancing, and tempting wares and art for sale. The festival was free to the public, but priceless in its offerings of a wonderful sampling of Greek cuisines, customs and culture. The family friendly atmosphere offered a children’s play area as well. Adults enjoyed a variety or beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and shopping in the Agora, a Greek marketplace.
You may hear others use the exclamation, “Opa!” while attending this festival. No worries – it is often used as a sound of acclaim. The actual meaning of “Opa!” is more like “Oops” or “Whoops!” Among Greeks, you may hear it during the now rare breaking of plates in Greek restaurants, or as a sound of praise for performers.
This festival was held in the parking lot of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church. White tents lined the perimeter of the parking lot, delineating areas for shaded seating, a boutique marketplace, and food, beverage and dessert serving areas. Also on the festival grounds were a Kiddie Village (a play area of activities including a rock climbing wall and a bounce house), a music stage with areas for dancing demonstrations and seating, and an open area in the center for mingling and socializing.
The front of the church was well-marked with eye-catching signage, and character balloons. While the huge balloons were great landmarks for those looking for the church, they also proved to be rather scary for the youngsters, as was demonstrated by the toddler who belonged to one of my festival-going friends!
This festival is quite popular, so it’s not a surprise that parking can be a challenge, especially during peak hours. Free street parking is available in the residential area surrounding the church. I recommend arriving in between the traditional lunch and dinner hours, to enjoy the festival without the throngs of people who attend as evening approaches. Otherwise, be ready to hunt for a parking spot and then walk a bit to get to the church lot.
The church, built in 1957, was open to the public for guided tours during the festival. During the complimentary, one hour tour, visitors learn about the interior iconography and architecture, history, practices and the Orthodox faith. The church houses the city’s most complete collection of Byzantine style mosaics in the area. Although I have not attended the tour, a few friends tell me that it is quite interesting and worth the time.
Food and Beverages
Let’s be honest – the atmosphere, music, shopping and dancing are all great, but, we really went for the food! And boy was the food good! But first, the beverages. The Taverna offered various beverages, including bottled water, bottled tea, lemonade or soda, bottles of imported Greek beer, and glasses of Greek wine. This year, a new addition was the flavored water, with an anise licorice taste. It was okay, and tasted much like the Italian anisette liqueur, which is not for everyone.
Shown below are many of the Greek food items available for our tasting pleasure:
Flaming Saganaki (Appetizers)
Kefalogaviera – cheese, pan seared with lemon & Brandy, served with pita.
“Greek Style” Fried Calamari – Fresh cut Calamari with dipping sauce.
Dolmades – Delicious seasoned rice wrapped in grape leaves.
We tasted these stuffed grape leaves and found them to be a bit soggy and somewhat salty.
Spanakopita – A tasty blend of spinach, eggs & feta cheese, surrounded by phyllo. Feta is a soft white cheese made of goat’s milk. These are a favorite of my friends and I. As usual, they were a great treat!
Tyropita – A tasty blend of eggs & feta cheese, surrounded by phyllo.
Greek Village Salad (with skewer of beef or chicken) – dressed with oil and vinegar, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of oregano & garnished with Feta Cheese and Kalamata olives.
I enjoyed my salad and would recommend it to any festival goer!
Dinners and Sandwiches
Half Chicken Dinner – 1/2 Greek Chicken, served with Rice Pilaf, Greek Salad, & Pita Bread.
Lamb Shank Dinner – Lamb Shanks, with red sauce, served with Rice Pilaf, Greek Salad, & Pita Bread.
Moussaka Dinner – A delightful casserole layered with highly sautéed eggplant slices, meat sauce, and a rich creamy cheesy sauce. Served with rice pilaf, Greek salad, & pita bread.
Pastitsio Dinner – A casserole dish consisted of delicately seasoned meat sauce, macaroni, and a rich creamy sauce. Served with rice pilaf, Greek salad, & pita bread.
Vegetarian Dinner – Choice of Spanakopita or Tyropita. Served with Dolmades, Greek salad & pita bread.
Loukaniko Dinner – homemade Greek sausage (loukaniko) is a tasty blend of meat & spices & topped with thin slices of tomatoes, and a flavored yogurt sauce. Served with rice pilaf, Greek salad, & pita bread.
Stuffed Green Pepper & Tomato Dinner – Green Pepper & Tomato stuffed with a tasty blend of seasoned ground beef and rice. Served with rice pilaf, Greek salad & pita bread.
Souvlaki Sandwich (choice of beef, chicken or Loukaniko) – Seasoned marinated beef or chicken in a specially prepared lemon herb-seasoned dressing, rolled in pita bread & topped with thin slices of tomatoes, onions and a flavored yogurt sauce. Can also be ordered as a dinner, served with rice pilaf, Greek salad and pita bread.
This is my absolute favorite and what I ordered, with chicken at the festival. The dressing was a perfect addition and made for a great sandwich, together with the chicken, yogurt sauce and some veggies from the side salad!
Gyro Dinner – the popular sandwich “meal itself” consisting of thin slices of beef and lamb on a flat pita bread and topped with thin slices of tomatoes, onions, and a flavored yogurt sauce. Ordered as a dinner, the sandwich is also served with rice pilaf, Greek salad and pita bread.
One of my friends ordered this dinner, as her “usual” and enjoyed it, although she said it was just a bit dry. A little extra yogurt sauce seemed to take care of that!
Desserts and Sweets
Baklava – The most famous and delectable of layered Greek desserts made of Phyllo, chopped walnuts, butter, sugar, spices and a special preparation of honey and syrup.
Kourambiedes – Light butter almond cookies, smothered with powdered sugar.
Loukoumades – Dough puffs with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Kataifi – Kataifi wrapped in Phyllo with mixed cinnamon and walnuts and honey syrup.
Baklava Ice Cream – this treat was new to the festival this year, and what a treat it was! Cool and creamy vanilla ice cream, mixed with the sweet and savory baklava ( Phyllo, chopped walnuts, butter, sugar, spices and a special preparation of honey and syrup.).
Rice Pudding – I scarfed up some Rice Pudding to take home later as a treat. However, I was a bit disappointed because it wasn’t what I was expecting. The consistency didn’t seem right and the taste was a bit blank.
As an alternative, try my Rockin’ Rice Pudding recipe!
The Atmosphere and Experience
Gorgeous weather added to the festive atmosphere of the 2014 Rochester Greek Festival. My friends and I attended on a Saturday afternoon, in between lunch and dinner, thus avoiding the inevitable crowds which would gather as the evening progressed. After surveying the area, we determined a plan of action: get in line for our beverages, then go over to the food service area, and meet at a table under the white tent.
- Food Tent – After a quick stop to get beverages at the Taverna, we quickly made our way to the dinner serving area. Set up like a bank teller waiting line, with cordoned off zig-zag lines, we quickly arrived at the front of the line. We were immediately shuttled along the ordering line and efficiently served our orders. Equipped with our trays of food, we were then herded to the payment line, were we also picked up our plastic utensils, napkins and packaged condiments. If this sounds like a highly structured series of events to you, then you’re right. After all these years, the festival organizers have this down to a science. Large menu signs were posted for festival goers to make up their dining mind before entering the serving area. Actually, the serving process reminds me of the “soup Nazi,” made famous on a Seinfeld episode. Don’t hesitate, or else you risk ridicule and disapproving frowns, not to mention some colorful Greek language. You have been warned!
- Shopping- Featuring many unique treasures; including clothing, jewelry, books, icons and specialty foods, the marketplace offers something for almost everyone. I enjoyed looking at the cultural items most of all, and occasionally chatting with the vendors, who are friendly and welcoming. A small, roped off café area offered a spot for festival goers to enjoy a beverage or a sweet treat.
- Music – I was also impressed with the music and dancing. The young dancers seem dedicated to performing the regional Greek dances for the onlookers. I also feel a bit bad for them though, because their ornate costumes must feel so heavy and hot in the June heat. You would never know that they are the least bit uncomfortable though. However, I have to note that this year; the music was quite a bit louder than in past years, making it difficult to carry on a conversation, even when on the other side of the festival site.
- Family Friendly – Another unique aspect of this festival is how it successfully caters to attendees of all ages. It is not unusual to see families with small children and seniors, group of teens, professionals, couples and others. It offers good, clean fun, where you don’t need to worry about unsavory characters, inappropriate music or language, or unsafe activities. I was also impressed that festival staff did a great job of cleaning up and clearing tables as attendees finished their meals.
I recall in past years that various items were raffled off, to aid in the fundraising. However, I didn’t see that this year. Perhaps I either missed it or it just was not obviously available.
I would most definitely recommend this annual festival to anyone who likes to enjoy good food and music in an outdoor setting, while also supporting philanthropic efforts. Plan extra time to park and wait in line for food, and don’t forget to take home some Greek sweets to enjoy later! Opa!
About the Rochester Greek Festival Philanthropy Program
The Greek Festival Philanthropy Program recipient for 2014 was the Bivona Child Advocacy Center! Bivona Child Advocacy Center is a safe, welcoming place for children who have been sexually or physically abused. They bring together under one roof all the professionals who have made it their life’s work to help to protect, treat and counsel children and their families, as well as investigate and prosecute the abusers. Bivona has evaluated almost 12,000 children since opening in 2004. Each year our previous charities are also presented with checks. Over $167,500 has been donated to local charities during the past 14 years. OPA!