Lordy, lordy, look who's 40. Not that the Greek Food Festival is showing any wear for its age. Held the weekend after Labor Day at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in central Bakersfield, the event is gearing up for another two days of food, fun and fellowship.
Although organizers plan some surprises for church members to mark the event's 40th anniversary, not much has changed for the popular food festival.
"For the guests, it's pretty much business as usual," said Danny Andrews, a church member who is on the planning committee.
That business includes the return of the popular feta fries, fresh fried chips topped with feta cheese, which were absent last year due to a staffing shortage.
"That booth takes a good amount of volunteers. We're set up with a couple of families."
More volunteers (and an additional fryer) helped bring another exciting item to the menu: falafel.
"We're offering falafel sandwiches. Those are $5, made by one of our families. Giving the guests a unique option, it's a pita bread sandwich with some vegetables."
Andrews mentioned that the fried chickpea patties are a good dining option for members of the Greek Orthodox Church who abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Despite a dispensation of grace that allows the consumption of meat if there is no alternative, members are happy to have choices.
"We can't eat a great barbecue meal on Friday. At the a la carte booth, you can buy a Greek salad, some cheese pastries, spanikopitas. When there is an alternative, it's nice to stay with the tradition."
As a result, Andrews warned the woman running the falafel booth that she should prepare for a bigger first day.
"I told her, 'You'll be busy Friday, but maybe not as much Saturday.' But there may be some vegetarians, some vegans."
For meat eaters, returning dishes include the full barbecue plate (sausage and meatballs) for $20 and the Greek lemon chicken dinner for $15. Both plates come with rice, salad, stuffed grape leaves and bread. Gyros will be available as well.
Along with the savory, sweets include the prepackaged baklava and cookies rich with walnuts and cinnamon, made by church members, as well as the beloved loukoumades (honey-puffed doughnuts sprinkled with cinnamon).
For the kids, hot dogs and snow cones will fill bellies while an assortment of activities will keep them occupied. Options include a variety of bounce houses, live music and dancing and face-painting. The booth offering children a chance to look like a pirate or other fanciful character is the brainchild of some enterprising church teens.
"We're trying to get our kids involved more this year. These teenagers need to raise some money for the summer church camp tuition. The camping program that the Greek church offers every year is $300 a child to go to camp for a week. Kids have fundraisers during the year, but they have their own booth at the festival so they can reach more people."
The event itself is a fundraiser for the church, which was hurt by last year's downpour that killed business on the first day. To shore up the loss, St. George held its first spring food event in April.
"Thank God that was successful. The community supported the event. There were four other events in town that day, but we still had a good turnout. We sold out of our pastries and our food by 8 o'clock. We raised $30,000. It was very, very successful."
This weekend, Andrews said organizers planned for around 5,000 attendees, a slight drop from the 8,000 who turned out in 2010, the festival's best attended year.
"Hopefully, we'll get more."
Along with food and returning apparel and houseware vendors, a raffle is set to spice things up. Each night 10 baskets -- filled with gift certificates from Cafe Med, Goose Loonies, John T's, Luigi's, Color Me Mine and other local sponsors -- will be raffled off.
And a grand prize of a year's membership to the Petroleum Club (valued at $1,800) will also be up for grabs. Tickets are $1 or $5 for six.