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.
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.
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.
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!
My girls opted for simple and classic slices of cheese pizza…which they ate in between turns on the carnival rides behind the church.
For a second course, I like to share a couple dozen steamed clams dunked in drawn butter.
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.
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 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!