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Hernando County Greek Festival packs food and fun

BROOKSVILLE — What started eight years ago as a one-day indoor festival quickly grew and expanded to two, then three days.

Its popularity most likely is the food and pastries, which often causes sudden outbursts of "Opa!"

The three-day Hernando County Greek Festival, hosted by Christ the Savior Greek Orthodox Church, continues to grow — both in size and popularity — each year. And when the annual festival kicks off Friday at the Hernando County Fairgrounds, there will be some surprises, as well.

This year's festivities are expanding to include an outdoor area with an additional stage, and even more live entertainment, activities and vendors.

The weekend will include games, a gyro-eating contest, dance lessons, cooking demonstrations and door prizes, as well as a kids' zone. Visitors can dine on Greek cuisine prepared by Greek City Cafe, including gyros, feta fries, spanakopita and moussaka, plus pastries such as baklava and diples.

"Oh my goodness, there will be lots of food," promises event co-chair Emily Thomas. "Flaming cheese, saganaki, moussaka ... We'll have it all."

Returning this year will be fan favorite Demetri and the Islanders, who will entertain throughout the weekend with Greek and American music. Other returning entertainers include Hara (Joy), a group of Greek folk dancers from Christ the Savior, and Polynesian dance/belly dancer Shazadi. Kenn E. Grube will perform as Elvis on Sunday, and will kick off the Rising Stars Talent Show (another new addition to the festival lineup). The judged talent show will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday on the outdoor stage. Other community and youth groups will entertain throughout the weekend. Also performing is local saxophonist Dell Barnes on Saturday.

"He is so amazing," Thomas said. "We are excited to have him here this year."

The Toga Fun Run, Walk and Kids Olympic Dash returns this year at new location, Anderson Snow Park.

"The polka run has been very successful," Thomas said. "It is a phenomenal event and everyone has so much fun."

Thomas said she hopes this year's participation is equally successful at the new site, which also may become the location for future Greek Festivals. The park is near where Christ the Savior is about to start construction of its new church.

"We're heading in that direction," she said. "Next year, hopefully."