Schenectady County

Volunteers stirring sauces, stuffing grape leaves for weekend Schenectady events

The question Saturday won’t be where to eat, but where to eat first.

The question Saturday won’t be where to eat, but where to eat first.

There’s the Greek fest — where the chef promises the lamb shanks will be so tender the meat will fall off the bone.

But there’s also the Little Italy fest, where five-hour sauces are already simmering in the kitchens and homemade pasta is being made by the pound.

Forget about choosing between them. Organizers say everyone should simply go to both festivals.

“I love it when Schenectady is hopping!” said St. George’s Greek Festival spokeswoman Olga Delorey.

Chefs preparing for the Greek fest have gone through 700 pounds of flour and 250 pounds of sugar for their trademark desserts. For dinners, they’re using enough tomato sauce to “fill a car,” they said. They have 1,930 pounds of meat, from lamb shanks to chicken for souvlaki.

They start cooking days in advance, but the work actually started this spring when they picked 4,300 grape leaves and froze them. This week, they’re being stuffed with ground beef and rice.

Chef Charlie Koines’ favorite is the lamb shanks, which are braised for three hours.

“Where in the area do you find a restaurant that serves lamb shanks? You’ve got to come to the festival,” he said. “We have to be very careful when we serve it, because it falls right off the bone.”

The festival will run all weekend at the Hellenic Center, 510 Liberty St. It will be open Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

The Little Italy fest is only on Saturday, from noon to 9 p.m. on North Jay Street. That’s only a few blocks from the Hellenic Center, so it’s within easy walking distance.

The Little Italy Festival is so popular that restaurateurs have called in friends and family from across the country to help bake.

At Civitello’s, Roie Angerami is expecting 30 volunteers, including family from New York City, Rochester, Ohio and Texas.

“It’s like a reunion for us,” she said. “We reminisce and we talk about the troubles we used to get into, who was the pet and who got away with everything.”

And, she added with a laugh, “We talk about how I yell … when they get into the kitchen, everyone ‘knows’ how to do everything.”

On Sunday, she’s taking them all to Glen Sanders Mansion for dinner to thank them for their help.

But before they arrive, she had already started working. She spent 40 hours making 400 pounds of cavatelli (macaroni pasta) by hand. Each batch takes about an hour.

“We’re sneaking it in between our cookies,” she said.

She’s also peeling 12 bushels of eggplant. Each bushel takes four to five hours to prepare.

“Then the breaded flour, egg ’em up, our special sauce — we’re making buckets and buckets of sauce,” she said.

The sauce simmers for five hours.

On Friday night, she’ll make bread — all the bread she plans to sell the next day must be made by daybreak.

Visitors will need to walk off some of those calories to make space for their next festival meal — and there’s plenty of activities for them.

Just across Erie Boulevard is the Villagers Stockade Art Show, an outdoor show that will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday if it doesn’t rain. The rain date is Sunday; if both days are washed out, the show is canceled.

Visitors can park in any of the church parking lots, but organizers are encouraging people to simply walk from the Greek and Little Italy fests.

“It’s a walking event,” said organizer Connie Colangelo. “They could walk to the other events.”

So far, 45 artists are scheduled to be in the show.

For those willing to walk a little farther, there’s also “Polka Palooza” on East Front Street, sponsored by the East Front Street Association. It will include a barbecue from 1 to 5 p.m. and live polka music from 3 to 7 p.m. at 203 Front St.

People will dance in the field where the city is erecting a stage.

Landlord and musician Marty Byster came up with the idea.

“This has been a dream of his since he was a little boy,” said spokeswoman Mary Ann Ruscitto. “I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ ”

Byster grew up in the neighborhood and still owns a house there. He’s active in the neighborhood association and plays the saxophone in a band, Donnie P. and Celebration.

The band hopes to raise money for the neighborhood. Residents want to buy a security camera.

If they don’t raise enough money for that, Ruscitto said, they’ll use the money to beautify the neighborhood.

There also will be live music at both the Greek and Little Italy fests.

“I think the music is very lively and uplifting,” Delorey said of the Greek fest. “Everybody starts to get up and even if somebody is not exactly familiar with the steps, you can look at the person next to you. It sort of drives people in.”

At the Little Italy fest, the focus will be on Italian music, a shift from previous years.

When some regular bands turned out to be booked for the day, music organizer Michael Catrambone went looking for replacements.

“I replaced them strictly with Italian music. It’s an Italian fest,” he said. “We’re really going right to the flavor of the Italian, leaning away from the American pop.”

There will be two stages this year, up from one, and there will be roving musicians on the street as well.

Funds from the fest will go to the Schenectady Foundation’s Rebuilding Families Fund to assist the nearly 20 families in Rotterdam who have yet to move back into their homes, a full year after the flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee.

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