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Hellenic pride
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“We’re ready to go again,” says Grace Capetan, co-chair of the 53rd annual Savannah Greek Festival, which is sponsored by St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. “We’ll have all the Greek foods you would normally find at the festival, all made by parishioners.”

The menu includes Dolmades, a mixture of rice, ground beef and herbs rolled in tasty grape leaves. Pastitsio is baked macaroni layered with ground meat and cheese topping.

Spanikopia is spinach with feta cheese and herbs baked in layers of filo. In addition, there will be Greek-style baked chicken, lamb and Greek-style potatoes, Greek salad and gyro sandwiches.

Some selections are wildly popular. “We start running out of some items by Saturday afternoon,” Capetan says. “The grape leaves go first, but we keep on going with the chicken dinner and lamb. We also have combination plates for people who want to try everything.”

For dessert, there are pastries -- Baklava, which has pecans and spices baked in a layer of filo; Kourabiedes, butter cookies topped with powdered sugar; Finikia, honey-dipped spice cookies topped with pecans; Koulourakia, butter cookies are that particularly good dipped in coffee; Kataife, shredded filo dough filled with chopped nuts, spices and honey syrup; and Loukoumades, honey puffs sprinkled with cinnamon and nuts.

Capetan says some people mistakenly call the Loukoumades donuts. “They’re not donuts, but honey puffs,” she says. “We make them on-site, and can’t make enough of those.”

Preparing all that food takes time. “The cooking is done in advance,” Capetan says. “Only the baking is done at the last minute. We have to start the actual cooking in mid-June.”

Don’t get too full, or you won’t be able to dance. “The entertainment will be provided by Nick Demos and the Greek Islanders,” Capetan says.

“This year, we’ll have four dance groups -- the adult group ZOE, which means ‘life,’ the children’s group, Ta Pethia, which means ‘the children,’ and we have two teenage groups, the Zorba dancers.”

Melinda McAllister handles publicity for the festival. “We have a different band this year and we’re having a belly dancer, which we never had before,” she says.

McAllister began volunteering for the festival three years ago, when she was in high school. “I was working as an office assistant, and the person who originally did PR wasn’t going to be here, so I started doing it,” she says.

However, McAllister doesn’t do any of the cooking. “I would love to learn some day,” she says.

The festival is fun for visitors and volunteers alike. “It’s crowded and we always make more food than last year, but it still runs out,” McAllister says.

“I enjoy all the people who come out, especially the people who’ve never been before,” she says. “They’re always asking how to pronounce this and that.”

No head count has ever been taken, but it is estimated that 6,000 people attend the festival over its three-day run. One year, attendance was 10,000.

“The year My Big Fat Greek Wedding was popular, we had even more,” Capetan says. “We think that having the Olympics in Greece this year will bring in a large crowd this time.”

Interest in the church, which was renovated five years ago, increases more and more each year. “We’ll offer church tours again,” Capetan says.

The tours will be conducted by Chuck Watson and Pericles Pagratis, with assistance from Father John Caparisos. Visitors are particularly intrigued by the Byzantine icons seen on the church walls, Capetan says.

“People have heard how beautiful the church is and want to see it,” she says. “The iconography is very unusual. We don’t worship them, they just remind us of the kind of life we should be living.”


The 53rd Savannah Greek Festival will be Oct. 14, 15 and 16 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hellenic Center, 14 W. Anderson St. Admission is free all day Thursday and on Friday until 4 p.m. After that, a $2 donation is requested. Call 236-8256 or visit