Divinity is everywhere. It’s to be found in the ancient truths of sacred artwork. It’s in baklava-topped ice cream. You’re likely to stumble upon both at this year’s International Greek Food Festival.
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church (1100 Napa Valley Drive, Little Rock) has been a longtime home to the beloved food fest, surrounded on all sides by cars and pedestrians for a few days a year as visitors scramble to secure some chicken gyro platters from the fest’s drive-thru lane or to catch a performance from one of the Middle Eastern or Irish dance troupes. This year, festival visitors can pause in front of an elaborate new altar icon in the church’s Annunciation room: a 700,000-piece glass mosaic of Christ situated at the Annunciation’s altar, handmade by a studio in Italy and design especially for the space.
“You kinda have to understand the mindset of the church when it comes to adornment and decoration,” Rev. Dr. Nicholas J. Verdaris said Wednesday night, introducing the icon to a group of visitors and press members at a preview. “We use these images to inspire and to illuminate truth.” Two-dimensional Byzantine iconography surrounds the Annunciation visitor on all sides — intentionally presented in a flat matte style, “not meant to be Renaissance art,” Father Nicholas said, as the church has, historically, been sensitive about what kinds of art are appropriate for worship.
Now, despite all that art on the walls, the eye is drawn to the radiant glass mosaic at the altar, Christ in a gold robe and halo, holding a chalice in one hand and the Eucharist symbol with the other. Over 200 shades of colored glass and eight months of work went into the icon, Father Nicholas said.
Decidedly fewer hours went into crafting one of the festival’s featured menu items — the Sundae in Athens, a scoop of ice cream topped with buttery shards of baklava — but it’s pretty heavenly anyway.
Other new grub at the fest this year: a “vegeterranean” platter of seasoned rice with Greek salad pita and dressed green beans; the Olympic Sundae, loukoumades (Greek doughnut holes) atop vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey syrup; an “OpaTizer” platter of Greek meatballs, dolmades, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, sliced tomato, cucumber and pita; a gyro salad; and a light, lemony Ouzo Cake.
The festival benefits the Arkansas Foodbank, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Community Connections, Easterseals Arkansas, Humane Society of Pulaski County, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, Wolfe Street Foundation and Youth Home, and runs Saturday, May 18, through Monday, May 20. Get the full menu and an entertainment schedule here.