The Feast!

I spent most of Sunday with a glass of homemade wine in my hand, and sat at an old kitchen table stuffing “Aunt Sue’s” hand made cannoli.  That can only mean one thing-time for The Feast of the Assumption.  It’s a holy day marking Mary’s ascension into heaven.  And for Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, it’s the busiest week of the year.  Marrying food, faith, family and heritage.  For me, it’s a can’t miss event.

This year we returned to the house that belongs to my future sis-in-law’s great Aunt Sue.  The 90 year old cooks enough to feed an army, and opens her home, adjacent to Holy Rosary Church (the center of the celebration), to dozens of people…whether or not their last name ends in a vowel.  The home made spread was hearty and true to neighborhood.

Pizza, Cavatelli and meatballs, Eggplant Parmesan, Caprese salad, Stuffed Peppers, Breaded Chicken, Sausage, Pepperoni Rolls and Beef Braciole.

I sampled everything on the table, of course!  My kids went right for the meatballs.  But quickly moved on to all things sweet, most colorful of which was the layer cake made like the Italian flag.

When I was done with round one…after all, this is a marathon, not a sprint, I eagerly volunteered to help my Alisa fill her grandmother’s hand made cannoli shells.  She was so grateful for the help, she even shared the secret ingredient to her cannoli filling (Dream Whip)  and invited me back to do the same job on Christmas Eve.

It was time to walk off some of our feast and check out the rest of the action.  We walked through the carnival portion (with short detours for a Ferris Wheel ride, and obligatory gambling at the church…we’re Catholics, after all) then past the gauntlet of food stands and vendors all serving up the neighborhood’s best.  Sausage and peppers wrapped in pizza, steamed clams, Stromboli.  You could linger for the entire length of the four day festival and still not eat everything you can smell as you walk down Mayfield Road.

We stopped by the historic Alta House, a community center that once served as a place for Italian immigrants to get help with housing, employment and language skills.  Now it’s mostly a recreation center, including several bocce courts that played host to a coed tournament.  But before we could take off our belts, to help determine who was closest to the “pallin” (really spelled pallino)-common practice-it was time to head back to Aunt Sue’s for the private concert in Sue’s driveway, courtesy the Italian Band of Cleveland.

It was such a treat, not only to listen to this charming group, but also to watch generations of people enjoying it together.

 

I’m so pleased to have spend another weekend among good people, great food and strong traditions.  Buona Festa, everyone!

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The Feast! Food, Faith, Family. Little Italy’s Feast of the Assumption

I’m stuffed.  And so very happy.  The Feast of the Assumption is my favorite food festival of the year.  It’s the marquee event of Cleveland’s Little Italy.  

the feast-madonna

It is a sacred event, commemorating Mary being taken up to heaven.  But you kind of feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven when you stroll down the street, taking in the delicious atmosphere and mouth watering food.

The Feast-Murray Hill

I count down the days until The Feast every year.  If I was smart, I’d fast in the time leading up to it.  Instead, I psych myself up like a competitive eater at Coney Island on the 4th of July.  In the end, since I can’t really pack away as much food as I’d like…I prefer to graze and share…graze and share.  That way I can sample, and experience, as much as possible.

The Feast-pizza and sausage

I always start at the “church lady” stands adjacent to Holy Rosary Church, the focal point of the four day event.  Italian sausage wrapped in a slice of pizza (as a bun) and topped with peppers and onions.  That I won’t share!

The Feast-natalies pizza

My girls opted for simple and classic slices of cheese pizza…which they ate in between turns on the carnival rides behind the church.

The Feast-ride with natalie

For a second course, I like to share a couple dozen steamed clams dunked in drawn butter.

The Feast-clams

Usually we sit outside on a patio, listening to Italian music sung by the same trio of crooners and button box player who appear on the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield Road every year.

The Feast-italian singers

But this year…we were also treated to something special.  My brother’s fiance and her family invited us to her Great Aunt Sue’s home, just a stone’s throw from the church at the center of all the action.  She cooks for two weeks leading up to this event.  Friends and family chatted outside, sipping generous pours of the family’s famous home made wine.

The Feast-home made wine

The fun surprise of the evening was when the The Italian Band of Cleveland came to play a private set for the guests congregating in Aunt Sue’s driveway. (a testament to her own commitment to the neighborhood, and stature among those who call it home)

The Feast-Italian bandThe Feast-TubaThe Feast-Italian tuba

Full yet? Nope! Next it’s on to cavatelli and meatballs.  By this time, my eyes are usually bigger than my stomach.  But I can’t leave without diving into a bowl of this classic.  My girls didn’t argue.

The Feast-julias cavatelli

If the timing is right, in between courses (or during) you can catch a couple of tunes from folk singers on the street, dance to music from DJs, or tap your feet to live bands in tents behind some of the restaurants on the block.

For several of the restaurants in Little Italy, The Feast represents their year of profits.  And estimated 100,000 people attend.  They go all in for the event.  Beer tents are up, bands are blasting crowd-pleasing anthems, meatballs are served by the thousands, and pasta sauce is simmering in pots big enough to swim in.

The Feast-bocce

At the end of the street, you can hear the distinctive sound of bocce balls colliding and slamming in to the wood-framed courts at the Alta House.

Teams of four encased in clouds of cigar smoke and Old-World Italian accents.  Drink it in.

Couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of a statue of “The Madonna”  sitting solemnly in front of a rock band setting up on a ledge there.

The Feast-madonna at Alta House

Time for dessert.  Did you think we were done?  This I never falter on.  The sweet finish to this incredible feast must always be the tiramisu at Presti’s Bakery.  Of course there is cannoli, cassata cake and lemon ice at various booths.  But for me, dessert begins and ends with the best tiramisu in the city.

The Feast-tiramisu

I always leave The Feast of the Assumption full, in both stomach and spirit.  It makes me proud to be an Italian American and a Clevelander.  Mangia!