Editor’s note: Instead of a visit to an area restaurant this week, “At the Table” dropped in at two of the most popular festivals in the Schenectady region on Sept. 7 & 8.
It was a perfect pre-fall weekend for community celebrations.
Constant Companion and I headed for the 14th annual Little Italy StreetFest on North Jay Street in Schenectady.
The following day, we visited the third and last day of the 44th annual St. George Greek Festival on Clinton Street in downtown Schenectady.
While each event embraced much of the culture of the two ethnicities, Italian and Greek, the focus here will be on the food, specifically, what we considered, in no particular order, to be the Top Five culinary offerings at each fest.
Judging from the roar of the crowd, Schenectadians and their neighbors love Italian food.
A tent featuring food from Maria’s Café & Catering called to CC, and he returned with an ample-sized calzone and a paper cup of marinara for dipping. Lightly seasoned and filled with thinly sliced pepperoni, ricotta and mozzarella, calzones make excellent street food. Unless one overdoes the sauce, they are the epitome of food neatly wrapped in its own edible package.
If the calzone is an envelope, Perreca’s bread was a baby’s blanket. Filled with sausage, onions and peppers, the prize-winning Italian loaf captured the well-seasoned sauce, though not always successfully.
The lines were long all day in front of Cornells. According to a spokesperson for the restaurant, all four dishes sold out before the end of the day. The most popular was Rigatoni Bolognese, followed by Fried Brussels Sprouts with walnuts, romano cheese and aioli, Calamari Marinara and White Pasta Fagioli. My nutritional requirements would have welcomed an order of Brussels sprouts.
Civitello’s food tents stretched across three properties bordering Jay Street but the enticing aromas permeated the entire Little Italy neighborhood.
A long line formed in front of the Cavatelli and Meatball (or two meatballs) tent. Despite the fact that this is not an easily hand-held food, Civitello’s has a charming patio in back of the restaurant where patrons could sit, enjoy their food and chat with fellow fest-goers.
For me, one of the heights of the Little Italy StreetFest is watching talented Roie Angerami (wearing her ever-present hair covering) deep-frying zeppoli and generously coating them with granulated sugar. Small bits of raisins added sweetness to the delicately fried dough. The only thing better than watching the little blobs dance in the bubbling oil is enjoying them while they are still warm.
Heading across Union Street the next day, we joined the revelers under the huge white tent at the 44th annual St. George Greek Festival. Once again, I used the Top Five approach for evaluating the culinary offerings.
Possibly because it was the third and final day of the Greek Festival, the crowd size was smaller. Movement among the food stalls and dining tables was a breeze and lines were short.
I shuttled over to the seductively scented souvlaki area under the tent where marinated pieces of chicken and lean pork were being grilled nearly as fast as they could be placed in pita with an addition of fresh sliced onion, ripe tomatoes and tzatziki sauce. Gyros, hot dogs, French fries and Hellenic Salata were also available, but who needs hot dogs and lettuce when one can get souvlaki?
In the meantime, CC was scouting the indoor pastry/dessert/entree area. The negative side of Day 3 was that the lamb shanks as well as some of the more popular desserts were sold out.
Nevertheless, he snagged some moussaka (layers of eggplant, potato and seasoned ground beef topped with a béchamel and baked), as well as an order of pastitsio (seasoned ground beef and/or lamb mixed with pasta and grated cheese, topped with the afore-mentioned béchamel and baked). I was certain I detected a hint of nutmeg and/or cinnamon in the aromatic mixture.
Fest Guest was unable to resist a stuffed pepper, and though it was slightly over-salted for my tender tastebuds, that versatile green vegetable filled with ground beef and rice was among the best I have ever eaten. Kudos to the chefs of St. George’s.
We sampled a number of glorious Greek pastries, the names of which were also spelled hyphonetically on the program. Sometimes, the simplest of pastries had the most complicated names, like Kourambethes (butter cookies), Koulourakia (twisted butter cookies) and my all-time hard-to-pronounce-but-delightful-to-eat favorite, Galactobureko (semolina custard in filo). CC’s favorite treat was Finikia, a slightly spiced cookie of chopped walnuts glued together with honey. Biting into the Greek treat was like biting into a honeycomb and squeezing out all its liquid sweetness.
At the end of the international weekend food tour there was iced Greek coffee frappe, cappuccino whipped into a frenzy of density-related layers. Sweet and bitter, and served in a tall plastic cup with a straw, this was an eye-opener for me — a beverage I hope to enjoy again before next year’s festival.
Total cost of food
-- Little Italy Street Fest: $35
-- St. George’s Greek Festival: $64