Home Church & Religion Table Hoppin’: Greek Festival returns to St. Spyridon after four-year hiatus

Table Hoppin’: Greek Festival returns to St. Spyridon after four-year hiatus

Fr. Christopher Stamas, Bessie Drakodaidis of Yiayia's Kitchen, Georgia Parafestas, parish council president and Paul Barber, culinary chairman. Photo by Christine Peterson/ Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER – by Barbara M. Houle

After a four-year break due to the COVID pandemic, St. Spyridon Greek Cathedral in Worcester will welcome visitors back at the 2022 Grecian Festival, Sept. 16-18, held on cathedral grounds at 102 Russell St.  

The weekend celebration of Greek food, music, dance and culture will take place, rain or shine, from 5 p.m. to midnight Sept. 16; noon to midnight, Sept. 17; noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 18. Admission is $2 per person. Food and entertainment will be under a large white tent. On-street parking near the cathedral.  

In its 46th year, this festival has attracted thousands of attendees from throughout New England. September will mark one of the first times the event has moved from June to autumn. Parish council president Georgia Parafestas said one of the reasons for the switch to early fall was that Worcester’s Tercentennial, commemorating its 300th anniversary, took place in June, continuing through July and August. “There was a full list of events,” she said. “Planning for September was not a problem for us.” 

Similar to past years, the 2022 festival will feature a fantastic selection of traditional Greek food and pastries, live bands and DJ, the Agora Bazaar Marketplace and a Kids’ Corner with fun activities. Also, there’s a grand prize raffle of $5,000 and five $1,000 first prizes, with winners to be announced on Sept. 18. Ticket holders do not need to be present to win.                                                                    

The Tonna Room of the cathedral will be filled with cultural displays that include a collection of Greek artifacts and clothing from the personal collections of parishioners. “It will be a walk down memory lane,” according to Christina Andrianopoulos, chairwoman of publicity and outreach for the cathedral. St. Spyridon was officially established on Oct. 15, 1914. Andrianopoulos said the Worcester Historical Society also would provide Worcester Tercentennial “memories.”       

Volunteers for Yiayia’s Kitchen. Photo by Christine Peterson/ Telegram & Gazette


‘Food handmade with love’  

Gus Giannakis for the sixth year is festival chairman, working closely with committees and volunteers. Owner of the Pickle Barrel Restaurant in Worcester, Giannakis with George Gourousis and Father Christopher Stamas of St. Spyridon, helped organize the cathedral’s first Gyro Fair held last October. The small fundraiser with Greek food and live music replaced the annual festival.  “We have missed our guests as much as the community has missed our annual festival,” said Giannakis. “There’s so much to take in and enjoy, and at the festival you can be Greek for a day or the weekend. We’re happy to be back.”                                                                                           

 Paul Barber, who with his wife, Melina Capsalis Barber, owns the Flying Rhino Café and Watering Hole in Worcester, is culinary chairman. Barber has held the title for “several years,” and is assisting workers of traditional and quick dining service stations select authentic Greek food prepared by volunteers and community workers. “Food handmade with love,” said Barber, whose first festival adviser was the late Chris Liazos, former owner of the Webster House Restaurant and festival food chairman as far back as 2012. That year, in an interview with this reporter, Liazos explained how St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in 1976 held its first festival. The late Rev. Fr. George Stephanides, who came to Worcester from California, initiated the festival to celebrate America’s bicentennial, according to Liazos, who said the event was a wonderful way to introduce the Worcester community to Greek culture and religion. The festival had been a bi-annual event when it first began.  

Help from local restaurants

Barber said local chefs and restaurateurs have volunteered through the years to help prepare festival food and sometimes menus. Cia Bella Restaurant in Worcester, The Pickle Barrel, The Manor in West Boylston, Val’s Restaurant in Holden and Zorba’s Taverna in Worcester have been among participants, he said. The Nicas family, owners of the former Castle Restaurant in Leicester, also cooked at many of the events, and Jim Vasiladis, owner of O’Hara’s Wine and Liquors in Worcester, has been in charge of beverages.  The Barbers’ son, Myles Barber, had just graduated from St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury and heading to culinary school when he worked the 2012 festival beside his parents. He’s now executive chef at The Flying Rhino. 

At the festival, the traditional food station will offer complete dinners, lamb and chicken souvlaki, sides and a la carte choices; Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) and Tiropita (Greek cheese pie); Moussaka (traditional Greek eggplant dish with potato, seasoned beef, creamy béchamel sauce; Pastitsio (baked pasta dish with seasoned ground beef and béchamel sauce) often referred to as the Greek version of lasagna; Grape leaves; Greek salad. And, so much more!  

Quick dining will include a variety of options, such as gyro, Greek gourmet burgers, Greek fries and hot dogs. 

Look for the Loukoumades Station for the Greek version of doughnuts. Deep-fried to be golden and crispy, loukoumades are drenched in a honey syrup and sprinkled with walnuts and cinnamon. The dessert will be available as a half dozen or dozen. 

Barber, who will work the food line, said committees are taking the event to a new level this year to “up the game.”  

The new YiaYia’s Kitchen, under the direction of Bessie Drakodaidis, will showcase Greek pastries and also offer Greek coffee and other beverages. Members of St. Spyridon’s Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society are volunteers in YiaYia’s (meaning grandmother), located in the tent area. Drakodaidis said tsoureki, a brioche-like sweet bread, will be available for the first time. Volunteers for days have worked tirelessly making the bread, traditionally served on Easter. Other made from scratch desserts include rice pudding, baklava, kourabiedes (powdered sugar butter cookies); galaktoboureko (a creamy custard in crisp phyllo pastry bathed with sweet syrup); and kouroulakia (braided butter cookies).  Members of the Greek Youth Orthodox Group will make Greek frappes during festival hours, according to Georgia Parafestas, who said the iced coffee is the best. Members of the group also will perform traditional Greek dances, she said.  

St. Spyridon’s largest fundraiser

Father Stamas, who has been at St. Spyridon for three years and a priest for 25 this August, will lead church tours, offering insight into the spiritual and cultural history of the Greek faith. While he has chaired and participated in many Greek festivals, he said this will be his first at the cathedral. “I was 13 when I took part in my first festival in Lowell with my father,” he said. Leading up to the festival, Father Stamas was among many food tasters. He referred to it as an occupational hazard, but said festival-goers definitely won’t go away hungry or disappointed in the food. “It’s all so great,” he said.     

Andrianopoulos said the festival, St. Spyridon’s largest fundraiser, helps supports educational, cultural, spiritual programs and activities; youth and senior programs; certified pre-school; the Orthodox Food Pantry (associated with the Worcester County Food Bank) that feeds more than 200 people a month and philanthropic charities throughout Worcester County.  

It promises to be a fun-packed weekend with the Grecian festival ending the same day as Worcester’s stART on the Street arts celebration on Park Avenue. Barber said St. Spyridon’s looks forward to welcoming visitors from stART.  

Get ready to enjoy Greek food and lots of it!