It was out with corned beef and cabbage and in with pasta consardi and twist bread Monday, as St. Joseph's Day succeeded St. Patrick's Day in the holiday order.
Nowhere was the celebrating more heartfelt than in Frank's Sunny Italy on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo, where the Sclafani family hosted its 14th annual St. Joseph's Table to benefit Women and Children's Hospital.
Since its inception, the event had brought in about $20,000 for various causes, first and foremost the Bryant Street hospital for sick children. The Sclafanis hoped to collect at least $3,800 -- the amount that 1,200 guests contributed last year in return for traditional meatless St. Joseph's meals, free from 1 to 8 p.m.
For Frank and Maria Sclafani and their four children, opening the popular restaurant's doors to the public as a yearly act of charity carries on a tradition established by Maria's mother in Montemaggiore, the Sicilian village where the couple grew up.
"Every year for 18 years, she would go to the orphanage and pick out kids to bring home to feed on St. Joseph's Day," Maria recalled.
Of course, the Feast of St. Giuseppe, patron saint of the poor, actually goes back centuries in the small towns of Italy, where it was customary to serve at least 13 dishes, preceded by prayers asking St. Joseph to help families. Leftovers would be given to the needy of each village.
In the kitchen just after noon Monday, family members and friends stood ready to start ladling up the main dishes -- 250 pounds of pasta to mix with sardines and 150 pounds of rice to serve with lentils. Shelves were lined with take-home boxes containing a bite of each menu item and a large orange, for people unable to stay for the whole meal.
Though the primary motivation is religious, the St. Joseph's Table is a way to thank the community for helping the restaurant -- which Frank and Maria Sclafani opened after coming here from Sicily in 1989 -- become a culinary hot spot.