ASTORIA — No one makes it better than grandma.
And lucky for Astoria, that's who's doing most of the cooking this weekend at the St. Demetrios Cathedral Festival — the neighborhood parish's annual celebration of Greek culture and, of course, food.
"It's something that everybody comes out of the woodwork for. If you come by, you'll see the grandmothers making the Greek pastries," said Gary Sideris, parish president at St. Demetrios, a Greek Orthodox church.
The church, at 30-11 30th Dr., has been hosting its annual festival the weekend before Memorial Day for nearly four decades, Sideris said. Nearly 100 volunteers help run the four-day event, with the parish's older members heading up most of the cooking duties.
"Even if someone has aches and pains, when the festival comes around, they want to work," he said, adding that almost all the food sold at the fair is homemade and crafted by pros.
Some of the participants have been working the festival for decades.
"There's one lady who makes the loukoumades," Sideris said, referring to a traditional Greek fried dough pastry, drizzled in honey and cinnamon. "I think she's like 92."
Festival-goers can feast on an array of traditional Greek dishes: savory lemon potatoes, roast lamb, spinach pie, souvlaki and chicken gyros among them, plus sweets like loukoumades and flaky baklava.
"We have all the Greek food," said Costas Eliades, another longtime festival organizer.
He added that the event is one of the region's premiere Greek festivals, with somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people attending each year.
"Ours...is one of the few Greek American parishes that has been doing this for this long of a time — 39 straight years, without any interruption," Eliades said. "It's also a major, major part of the community, not only our own Greek community, but also the Astoria community. The non-Greek community very much looks forward to this every year."
The festival serves as one of the main fundraisers for the St. Demetrios School, which serves students from pre-k to high school with a focus on Greek studies and language. Students from the school will perform traditional Greek folk dances at the festival, organizers said.
The festivities also include large amusement park-style rides on the church grounds, carnival games, a live DJ and other entertainment.
Sideris said even though the festival has its roots in the old ways, there have been some changes over the last 39 years. The grandmothers now use a machine, for example, that drops their loukoumades batter into the deep fryer.
"They used to make it with a spoon," he said. "We modernized."
The annual St. Demetrios Greek Festival will take place in Astoria from May 16 to 19 at St. Demetrios Church at 30-11 30th Dr.