PAWTUCKET – Year after year, it’s the smell of lamb roasting on the spit and the taste of traditional Greek cuisine that keeps visitors coming back to the annual Grecian Festival in Pawtucket, say event organizers.
Hosted by the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, 97 Walcott St., the three-day event has “the best Greek food in the area,” Elli Panichas, spokeswoman for the festival, told The Valley Breeze.
Staying true to tradition, Panichas said that not much has changed for this year’s 92nd annual Grecian Festival, running Friday, Aug. 16, from 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 17, from noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 18, from noon to 9 p.m.
The festival celebrates Greek music, spirit, culture and cuisine and commemorates the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by turning the parish grounds into a Greek village of sorts, featuring food, drinks, music, dance, a marketplace, and children’s activities.
“We are traditional. What you get this year, you’ll get next year and you got it last year,” Panichas said. “Because our food is so popular, we don’t dare change it.”
The three-day festival draws approximately 10,000 people from all different ethnic backgrounds, Panichas said, adding that the camaraderie is her favorite part.
“It’s amazing to see this whole community coming forth for this weekend,” she said. “(The festival is) not so large that you get lost and you always meet a friend.”
The women of the parish bake all of the pastries and Greek casseroles in the parish’s professional kitchen, while the men, as is traditional, prepare the meat on site, she said.
The menu includes roast lamb, baked lamb shank (Greek osso bucco), chicken, rice pilaf, gyros, souvlaki, tiropetes, pasticio, spanakopetes, stuffed grape leaves, moussaka and more.
A popular offering is the lamb shank, Panichas said, adding that they are the only ones in the area that serve it. “It is absolutely delicious.” Greek pastries and specialties, baked by the women of the Philoptochos Society, include Greek rice pudding, kourambiedes, finikia, kouloulakia and baklava.
While the women sometimes modernize the pastries, Panichas said, “You never get rid of the traditional recipes that our parents and grandparents gave us.”
On Friday night, specialty food will be provided by the Stratis family of the House of Pizza on Division Street in Pawtucket, a tradition for more than 20 years.
Greek coffee, paximadia (biscotti), and baklava cheesecake can be purchased at the cafe, as well as glasses of ouzo, mavrodaphne, metaxa and mastiha.
Greek wines, liquors, beers and other beverages are offered in the outdoor bar area, and hot dogs and hamburgers are available for picky kids.
Panichas said to expect to spend a $10 minimum on food.
Visitors can learn to cook with filo during a demonstration hosted by the women of the parish.
Performances by the church’s Greek Pride Dance Troupe take place Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 4 and 7 p.m.
Dancers, in full ethnic costumes representing various regions of Greece, its villages, islands, and mountain regions, will perform traditional and modern Greek dances throughout the festival.
“We’re known for our dance troupe,” Panichas said. The troupe, which has at least 50 members, is invited to perform at other churches around New England, she said.
Festival-goers can also check out the indoor/outdoor Greek agora, or marketplace, and browse specialized clothing, jewelry, giftware and religious items both handcrafted and imported from Greece.
Children have plenty of activities to choose from including games, face painting, and a climbing rock wall hosted by the R.I. National Guard. They can also pose for a photo with a life-size Evzone (a kilted soldier belonging to a select Greek infantry regiment), dressed in full Greek regalia.
With plenty of tents, the festival is held rain or shine.
There is ample street parking and free shuttle bus service available for an easy access parking lot on Roosevelt Avenue across from Pawtucket City Hall.
For more information, visit www.assumptionri.org/festival .