The Cranston Greek festival holds a special place in my heart because it reminds me of my own childhood. I grew up in a church that held its own Egyptian festivals in Rhode Island where I used to volunteer and help out over the weekend. My favorite job to try and wrangle was cutting the gyro meat off of the slowly spinning vertical rotisserie. It was not only fun to wield giant sharp knives as a 12-year old, but there were some unofficial perks to providing “quality control” to make sure that the meat tasted good enough for the gracious people visiting our church.
Thousands of people descend upon the Church of the Annunciation in Cranston, RI every year for the Greek festival. While of course these people are looking for delicious Greek food to eat outdoors, there is more to the festival than just food. Aside from the fun performances on the full stage or the mouth-watering aromas emanating from the tents, the Greek Festival is a demonstration of community. All of the people working at the festival are volunteers looking to help out the church, which is so central to the success of the Greek-American community in Rhode Island. If you are lucky enough to attend the event, I urge you to look not only at the food on your plate(s), but also to the people serving that food and to the church that these people are hoping to support through your patronage at the festival.
Church of the Annunciation
175 Oaklawn Ave,
Cranston, RI 02920
The Church of the Annunciation itself has a unique dome-inspired architecture where the entire church appears circular. The interior is beautifully decorated and the church offers tours of the interior for anyone looking to learn a little more about the congregation or Greek Orthodoxy in general. Outside of the church, the festival is set up around the parking lot. There are food tents and tents where people can sit and eat. The tents offer a great alternative for people looking to hide from the sun or even the rain, which doesn’t stop the festival from taking place over the course of the weekend.
Next to the food and seating is a large stage where bands play Greek music and the church’s own dance troupe performs traditional Greek dances. Everyone working at the event is a volunteer and the people are very friendly as they serve up delicious food to guests, perform on stage, or share insights into Greek culture.
The food at the Cranston Greek Festival is top notch. Practically everything is homemade by the people of the church and everything is prepared fresh on the premises for guests. There are savory items as well as many classic sweets. The list of food items below only scratches the surface of what you can find at the festival. Everything is authentic because it comes from people who grew up eating and making it for generations.
Gyros – No Greek festival is complete without the Greek-American staple that is the legendary vertical rotisserie of processed meat called, “Gyros.” It is so popular that the festival often has an express lane for people seeking to only purchase freshly sliced gyro sandwiches. Words cannot do this sandwich justice and the gyros at the Cranston Greek Festival are some of the best around.
The sandwich itself is composed of freshly sliced gyro meat right off the spit, which is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The meat is placed on a soft, warm, pocket-less pita bread before getting topped with onions, tomatoes, and homemade tzatziki (cucumber yogurt sauce). This combination of flavors is often what people think of when they reminisce about Greek festivals.
Spanikopita (Spinach Filo/Phyllo Pie) – Personally, I consider spanikopita a quintessential Greek staple. This dish contains spinach, feta cheese, herbs and spices sandwiched between layers of buttery, crispy filo dough. It’s often treated as a side dish although it’s delicious and filling enough to stand on its own. Some Greek festivals or restaurants try to pull the wool over your eyes by dumping a bunch of creamed spinach from a can in between the filo dough layers. That is not the case at the Cranston Greek Festival. All of the spanikopita is homemade with care just like it would be in the homes of the people making it.
Souvlaki (Kebabs) – No Greek cookout would be complete without souvlaki skewers. This is cubed pork, beef, lamb, or chicken that is marinated in Greek spices before getting simply grilled. The souvlaki at this festival has all of the right flavors attached without cutting any corners. The kebabs often come medium-well or well done, which is expected when serving mass amounts of food to people without risking having anything undercooked. Along with the kebabs, try some roasted potatoes that are also marinated in traditional Greek spices.
If you love Greek food or if you’ve never tried Greek food, you need to get yourself to the Cranston Greek Festival. The volunteers from the church are out there working hard rain or shine to make sure people enjoy themselves. As an added bonus, if you happen to find yourself interested in learning more about the church, Greek culture, or Greek Orthodoxy, the people are sure to share their experiences with you. Great food and good people – what more could you want?