Three days of Italian entertainment on Center Street: Italian Fest celebrates food, music, and culture

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

By TAYLOR HARTZ
STAFF WRITER

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival brought three days of Italian cuisine, culture, and tradition to downtown Southington last weekend.

More than 30 vendors lined Center Street, Friday through Sunday, filling the festival with the scents of eggplant parmesan, paninis, and meatball sliders.

A consistent supply of sausage grinders flowed from the UNICO sponsored tent, with two new members piling peppers onto the traditional rolls.

“The grinders are my favorite part of the festival,” said Michael Aparo, in his first year with the Italian organization that co-sponsors the festival.

Aparo passed a grinder off to fellow first-year member Dominic Perone, who said it has been a lifelong tradition to volunteer with the festivals’ variety of vendors.

“Its great to give back to the community,” said Aparo.

A few tents down, the Sons of Italy sampled Pasta e Fagioli in the street and served their traditional soffrittos.

“We sell out every year,” said Fred Tomassetti, a member of the co-sponsor organization for more than three decades.

This year, the Center Street club purchased 500 pounds of soffrittos to avoid selling out their usual 300 pound supply.

Center Street fixture Paul Gregory’s served gourmet sandwiches, joined by new-comer Chompers food truck’s fried chicken parmesan balls, and old favorites like Napoli Café, Deli and Catering, serving their traditional Italian Arancini.

The family-owned Napoli restaurant closed its storefront doors, but continues serving their specialty at the festival each year. Meg Truss, wife of owner Mike Truss, said the festival allows them to see members of the community who were loyal customers when their restaurant was open.

“It’s nice to see the people that miss us and say they come every year for our signature sandwich,” said Truss of their specialty broccoli rabe and aged provolone grinder.

While the food may be the main attraction, “the entertainment is all around,” said Robin Truss of Napoli’s fifth year at the festival.

Behind the block of food tents, vendor volunteers Tina Riccio and Kaitlin Kawalick danced in the street to the musical styling of Peter Picone and Antonietta Barbato on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the weekend, the festival saw performances from Vincent and Emily Ricciardi, The Great Leone magic show, Charlie Tiernan, and several other vocalists and musicians.

A children’s carnival offered games and rides for young fun, while a wine tasting contest on Saturday entertained the older crowds.

Sponsored by Northeast Produce grape distributor and the festival committee, the contest named the best wine makers in town.

Tom Raffile took home first prize for red wine with a 2015 Strawberry Merlot, and Tom Davino earned the title of top white wine for his 2013 Pinot Grigio.

Sal Coppola took second place in both categories, for a 2013 red Chianti and a 2014 white Pinot Grigio.

Coming in close behind were third place winners Nick Cristillo for a 2013 Old Vine red, and Wendy Sousa for a 2014 Pinot Grigio.

Northeast Produce sampled the winning wines on Sunday afternoon, and sold wine making starter kits and fresh tomatoes at their booth.

Despite the scattered storms, crowds gathered near the stage on Sunday morning for an hour long Italian mass. This year’s mass was dedicated to Southington resident Pat Baker, who was a key supporter of the festival until his recent passing.

Following the mass, the Knights of Columbus and the Italian-American Festival Committee led the Blessed Saint Procession, carrying the Madonna Della Strada statue through the town.

Committee members carried the statue, adorned with money and flowers, stopping periodically for prayer where residents had set decorated tables in the streets for placement of the statue.

Spectators lined the streets to pray, decorate the statue, and photograph the block-long procession as it wound through downtown streets.

After the Madonna Della Strada returned to the alter on Sunday morning, the bands and vocalists took to the stage, and the vendors fired up their ovens for a final day of Italian food and entertainment.

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Napoli cafe, deli and catering served traditional Italian arancini during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

Napoli cafe, deli and catering served traditional Italian arancini during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

A resident enjoys a traditional italian arancini from Napoli Cafe, Deli and Catering during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

A resident enjoys a traditional italian arancini from Napoli Cafe, Deli and Catering during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

Members of UNICO serve their traditional sausage and pepper grinders during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

Members of UNICO serve their traditional sausage and pepper grinders during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

Fred Tomassetti, a member of the Sons of Italy, serves pasta fagioli during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

Fred Tomassetti, a member of the Sons of Italy, serves pasta fagioli during the 2015 Italian-American Festival on Center Street on July 26.

Flags were carried during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

Flags were carried during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A band led the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A band led the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

State Rep. David Zoni (D-Conn.,) carried a candle in the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

State Rep. David Zoni (D-Conn.,) carried a candle in the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A young girl throws flowers to decorate the Madonna Della Strada statue, that was carried in a procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A young girl throws flowers to decorate the Madonna Della Strada statue, that was carried in a procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

An Italian flag flies over Center Street during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

An Italian flag flies over Center Street during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

Angelina Thomas, 8, Southington throws flowers to decorate the Madonna Della Strada statue, that was carried in a procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

Angelina Thomas, 8, Southington throws flowers to decorate the Madonna Della Strada statue, that was carried in a procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A member of UNICO prepares the club's traditional dish, a sausage and pepper grinder, during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

A member of UNICO prepares the club’s traditional dish, a sausage and pepper grinder, during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

Michael Aparo (left,) and Dominic Perona (right,) both first year members of UNICO, prepare the organization's traditional dish, sausage and pepper grinders, during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

Michael Aparo (left,) and Dominic Perona (right,) both first year members of UNICO, prepare the organization’s traditional dish, sausage and pepper grinders, during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival.

Southington residents placed decorated tables in the streets during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

Southington residents placed decorated tables in the streets during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

Tina Riccio (left,) and Kaitlin Kawalik dance along to Italian songs performed during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

Tina Riccio (left,) and Kaitlin Kawalik dance along to Italian songs performed during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday July 26.

A member of the Italian-American Festival Committee pins money to the Madonna Della Strada during the statue's procession through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

A member of the Italian-American Festival Committee pins money to the Madonna Della Strada during the statue’s procession through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

A crowd gathers around the Madonna Della Strada during the statues procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

A crowd gathers around the Madonna Della Strada during the statues procession through downtown streets at the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

The 11th annual Italian-American Festival featured a procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

A traditional outdoor Italian mass was held on Sunday, July 26, as part of the 11th annual Italian-American festival.

A traditional outdoor Italian mass was held on Sunday, July 26, as part of the 11th annual Italian-American festival.

Fred Tomassetti, a member of the Sons of Italy, serves the organization's traditional Pasta Fagioli during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

Fred Tomassetti, a member of the Sons of Italy, serves the organization’s traditional Pasta Fagioli during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

Italian and American flags were carried during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

Italian and American flags were carried during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday July 26. The statue was carried by members of the festival committee following an outdoor Italian mass.

A resident enjoys a traditional Italian arancini, prepared by Napoli cafe, deli and catering during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

A resident enjoys a traditional Italian arancini, prepared by Napoli cafe, deli and catering during the 11th annual Italian-American Festival on Sunday, July 26.

A member of the Italian-American Festival Committee prays during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

A member of the Italian-American Festival Committee prays during the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

Guilianna Rubino-Sorvillo, 20 months, dances on the sidewalk as she watches the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

Guilianna Rubino-Sorvillo, 20 months, dances on the sidewalk as she watches the procession of the Madonna Della Strada statue through downtown streets on Sunday, July 26.

Mike Fasulo (left,) and a fellow member of the Italian-American Festival Committee talk on Center Street during the festival on Sunday, July 26.

Mike Fasulo (left,) and a fellow member of the Italian-American Festival Committee talk on Center Street during the festival on Sunday, July 26.

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