Geli Ioannou remembers attending the very first festival at Midtown-Belvedere’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation 46 years ago.
“At the time, it was more of a pre-Christmas bazaar,” recalls Ioannou, 55, who is now the chairperson for the church’s annual event. “I must have been 8 or 9 years old, and I remember being in the social hall of the church putting up streamers and setting up tables.”
Throughout the years, the once small gathering contained to the social hall of the church has grown to utilize the facility’s Sunday school classrooms, outdoor courtyard, an 8,000-square-foot tent stationed along Maryland Avenue, and other venues in the neighborhood.
The community get-together—now dubbed the Greek Food, Wine, and Culture Festival—returns to the Annunciation Cathedral October 27-29, featuring its traditional eats and drinks, dancing, shopping, cathedral tours, and live music, as well as a few new spectacles for attendees look forward to.
“It’s not always easy to make a festival like this new,” says longtime parishioner Karen Philippou, who was brought on to help market the event this year. “But we try. We’re always open to new ideas to make it a full cultural experience.”
Among the new features to look forward to this year is a “Wines of Greece” program, which will be held at Preston Hall across the street from the church. For $10, festival-goers will be able to taste five different Greek wines and enjoy light food pairings.
Also new this year: organizers plan to livestream the event so that friends and family in Greece, and other parts of the world, can tune in to all of the festivities.
“We want to create a connection,” says Ioannou, who owns Zissimos Bar in Hampden. “The festival is a celebration of our faith, but also for our love of Baltimore. The church has been in the neighborhood for more than 100 years, and, like any resident of the city, we’ve seen good times and bad. But we’re very blessed that our surrounding community is in a good healthy state right now. That’s something that we want to share.”
Though there are fresh attractions debuting this year, Ioannou assures that the fête won’t waver from tradition when it comes to the food. Regulars will recognize classic Greek staples including homemade spanakopita, lamb shanks, gyros, souvlaki, stuffed grape leaves, and flaky baklava.
“A lot of people don’t realize that everything is home cooked,” he says. “Whether you’re eating in the tent or the social hall, you can look directly at the steam tables and see that it’s all authentic, and it’s all prepared with a lot of love.”
Of course, throughout the weekend there will also be various performances by award-winning Greek musicians and dancers hailing from across the region.
Philippou, who volunteers to work at the festival along with her husband and children each year, says that the music is one of the many aspects that makes the event so joyful.
“In Greek, we call it parea,” she explains. “I’m not sure how the word translates, but it’s when you go out with a group of friends and have a good time. It’s that feeling of being a part of the community. Hearing the music and smelling all of the food, you’re almost taken aback because it makes you feel like you’re in Greece.”