The Galbani Italian Heritage Festival is back for another glorious edition, and I’m here to help you eat your way through it.
The only way I could steer you wrong at the Italian Festival is by failing to remind you that the location has changed, from Hertel Avenue to the Outer Harbor. $5 will be required for admission, but think of it as a convenience fee for not having to loop around the same four blocks looking for parking.
You could probably close your eyes and walk up to any stand at the Italian Festival and find something delicious, which makes my job fairly easy. But whether you're a first-timer or an Italian Festival lifer, there's something for you on this guided tour.
The Festival runs 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
The staple: Campi’s Pizza. You can get pizza from a number of places at the Italian Festival, but the gold standard remains Campi’s, which entices passers-by with its lineup of thick, Sicilian-style pies in a glass case on the front counter. Slices will run you $6 a pop, but I’ve never regretted it.
I opted for a few carnivorous toppings Thursday, but even a slice topped with nothing but veggies looked so good that I almost tried it, which is saying something.
The line at Campi’s can get long, but that also means everything should be fresh from the oven by the time you get to the register. Pick something hot and sink your teeth into the deliciousness.
Can’t go wrong with: An Italian sausage. Mineo & Sapio is a longtime favorite, but I tried Melloni’s this year ($6) after being stopped in my tracks by the smells coming off the grill. I always forget how filling an Italian sausage can be when paired with a nice, thick roll.
I take my sausage with peppers and onions and ketchup on top (sue me), but if peppers and onions aren’t your thing, don’t be afraid to ask for a sausage with nothing on it.
Mix it up: Try the Tuscan chicken breast sandwich from Chiavetta’s ($7.50).
I hate Italian food but my friends dragged me here: Blasphemy, but try Lloyd Taco Truck or Jim’s SteakOut.
The staple: Pasta e fagioli. I had to look harder than I would’ve thought to find the classic Italian soup Thursday, but I ended up trying a bowl from Famiglia di Graci’s Jumbo Fried Dough stand ($3). The soup came in the red variety, which I usually prefer to white, and I enjoyed the flavor.
I also liked that it was slightly thicker than some pasta e fagiolis – ain’t nobody got time for watery soup, and the thickness helped slightly for the picture, too. There’s nothing photogenic about watery soup.
Can’t go wrong with: Salvatore’s mozzarella stuffed meatball ($5). Looked great, tasted good. I expected more cheese in the middle, but mine may not have been a representative sample. Wasn’t tremendously filling, but that's good if you’re trying to save room for some of everything.
Bottom line: it’s a cheese-filled meatball covered in delicious sauce. What’s not to like?
Mix it up: Try arancini. The presentation may change by vendor, but these are basically fried rice balls stuffed with cheese and served with sauce. A number of stands had this item available.
I hate Italian food but my friends dragged me here: Try the Buffalo chicken crunch roll from the Crunch Roll food truck ($4 each or 2 for $7).
The staple, with a twist: Cannoli is undoubtedly the go-to in the dessert department, and you should enjoy several of them (pro tip: cannoli is the plural of cannolo, so it would be wrong to have only one). But the cannoli cupcake from Angelo’s ($5, pictured above) caught my eye and I had to give it a try. The cannoli filling on top comes complete with miniature chocolate chips and cannoli shell pieces for scooping out the filling.
But the greatest part of this item was that Angelo’s hollows out part of the inside of the cupcake to make room for more cannoli filling, giving you a cool, refreshing blast of flavor all the way through. I may get another one of these when I go back to the festival. Their iced cappuccino ($2) was refreshing and delicious, too.
Can’t go wrong with: Any cheesecake from Genevieve’s ($5). I had a slice of the loganberry cheesecake Thursday. Look at that picture. Do you even have to ask?
Mix it up: I was intrigued by the offerings at the Kabob Shack. I didn’t have room left in my stomach to try one, but if fruit and chocolate on a stick is your thing, go find this place.
I hate Italian food but my friends dragged me here: You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re kidding. Go find a cuccidati – that’s a like a little Italian cookie. If nothing I’ve mentioned here feels like it’s your thing (or if you’re buying for an eater too young to appreciate Italian food), fried dough, kettle corn and Dippin’ Dots may be purchased at the festival.
But why would you want to waste space in your stomach that could be filled with cannoli?