Just when you thought the good folks at St. George Greek Orthodox Church were ready to rest on their well-earned laurels for the annual Greek Food Festival, they decide to spice it up. 

For this year's event, which kicks off Friday for its three-day run, pastitsio and gigantes (Greek beans) will be added to the already impressive lineup of shish kabobs, lamb chops, feta fries, pastries and more.

"It's sort of like a lasagna, with some ground beef and a bechamel sauce," Irene Sinopole, who handles promotion for the event, said of pastitsio.

The booth with the pasta dish will also serve the new bean dish, which consists of large dried white runner beans (aka fasolia gigandes) cooked in a tomato-based sauce. The beans, pasta and Greek salad will all be sold there for $4 each or a plate for $12.

Sinapole also pointed out that gigantes are one of the event's vegetarian options along with feta fries ($4), potato chips with feta cheese and an olive oil drizzle and sprinkling of oregano; and the falafel sandwich ($5), which is vegan, consisting of fried chickpea patties smothered in a tahini sauce, topped with lettuce, tomatoes and pepperoncinis.

Of course, many people attend the 43-year-old event for the delicious meat dishes — and there are plenty from which to choose.

"People mostly come for the barbecue and the gyros," Sinapole said. "Those sandwiches are the most popular thing."

The barbecue booth offers souvlaki (shish kabobs), meatballs in a tomato sauce and Greek sausage, both served with rice pilaf. All are available a la carte ($5-$8) or in combo plates with rice, Greek salad, Greek ring bread, feta cheese and Greek olives ($15-$20).

A newer addition, the lamb chops remain a big draw, available a la carte ($4) or in a combo plate with two chops and an order of feta fries for $12.

The menu also includes "appetizers" (spanikopita, tiropita and dolmades) as well as desserts including baklava salad and a whole room of pastries and treats including new addition nut bread.

Food is in the name but this event is about even more. It serves as St. George’s biggest fundraiser, benefitting church projects as well as the community. A portion of this year's proceeds will aid the Assistance League of Bakersfield.

It also celebrates Greek culture, through sharing its church as well as dancing. Church tours are offered each day, led by Father Joseph Chaffee, who has also added a short film about the history of Greek Orthodox Church to the tour.

By sharing their religion and culture, the congregation spreads that "Greek way of life," Sinapole said.

"It's how we live. We extend our community way of life to the community at large." 

Also entertaining the community is the church's youth dance group, consisting of about 30 performers in two age groups, who will perform each day. This festival will also serve as a warmup for instructor Soula Schoell and her team who will perform at another festival next week in San Luis Obispo.

The Olympians band will also perform all three days, offering live music that everyone can dance to, whatever your skill level. 

Sinapole said the live music is a key component in what can be a special evening.

"It's magical, it's ethereal to sit out under the stars, with the little white lights ... Just sit there and listen with your favorite beverage, whatever it may be. While the hours away and just close the festival up."

"I'm older and my feet just don't do those things (like dancing) anymore — but I used to. To do that is heaven."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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