Memorial Day weekend has become the unofficial kick-off both to summer and the barbecue season. But if you'd rather let someone else do the cooking, then check out the Valley Greek Festival. The festival is held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge. It's been running for 36 years and is planned and run by solely by church members.

This fact might not impress you until you ponder the sheer number of people who walk through the gates, close to 50,000 over three days. The volunteers hand make more than 48,000 Greek pastries, grill up about 1,200 chickens daily and serve up more than 80 pounds of spanikopita over three days. Talk about your big fat Greek Festival.

The food is all homemade, so if you leave hungry then you just weren't trying hard enough.

Loukoniko - Greek Sausage; Credit: Erinn Eichinger

Loukoniko – Greek Sausage; Credit: Erinn Eichinger

In addition to Greek chicken and beef souvlaki, which are cooked out on an open grill, you can also try loukoniko, a Greek sausage that is seasoned with orange, lemon and cloves; pastitiso, a heavier version of lasagna, if that's possible; calamari; dolmathas; gyros; or the greasy and delicious loukoumathes, or Greek donuts. Which go nicely with a strong cup of Greek coffee.

Work off all those extra calories with some Greek dancing. A couple beers, a little ouzo or a glass of retsina might help you join in the ever present circle of dancers on the open air dance floor, dancing to the live music which plays continuously until 9 p.m. each day. If being a spectator is more your thing, then you can watch the traditional dance performances given by the Chrysopeda & Leventopoula Dancers or the Orpheus Dancers, all members of the church as well.

There are more than 20 vendors selling music, jewelry, pottery, etc. And for the kids there is a whole section of the festival set aside for crafts and games, or you can sign up for a tour of the church as well. Lastly, don't forget to buy a ticket for your chance to win a trip to Greece. The drawing is done Monday at the close of the festival. All proceeds benefit St. Nicks. Opa!

Valley Greek Festival 9501 Balboa Blvd. Northridge; (818) 886-4040 Free admission.

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