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Food and passion: Greek festival a big event for all

Nearly 40 years ago, the parishioners at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on Whitehall Road in Albany decided to hold a festival to showcase some authentic Greek foods.

Every year, it's gotten bigger and bigger, said Maria Neal, who is on the public relations committee for the festival. "It's fun, and everyone looks forward to it."

The wait is almost over, as this year's Greek Festival runs from Friday, May 16, to Sunday, May 18, at St. Sophia. Admission to the 38th annual festival, which serves as the church's primary fundraiser, is $2, with children under 12 let in free. Admission includes a raffle ticket and commemorative booklet.

As Neal noted, the festival has grown to include far more than just Greek foods, although they are still a staple of the weekend. There will be Greek pastries (Neal said the women of the church bake 20,000 pastries), as well as gyro and souvlaki sandwiches (organizers expect more than 10,000 to be sold). Gourmet dining will be available inside the church, which boasts the area's only sit-down dining room at a Greek festival, Neal said.

"Our property is really big," she said.

The indoor dining includes waiter and waitress service and has proven to be popular over the years.

"There will be times when the line is 60, 70 people deep," Neal said.

Beyond the food, there will be continuous live Greek music and Greek dancers, historic re-enactors dressed like Spartan warriors, souvenir and jewelry stands, church tours and amusement rides for children.

Neal is particularly excited about the re-enactors, who attended the festival for the first time last year. Two re-enactors came up from New York City, and they were so impressed with the festival that Neal expects them to bring another four or five re-enactors this year.

The re-enactors won't even necessarily be Greek themselves, she said; "They just love that period in history. They can play out their passion."

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