To describe Buffalo’s Italian Heritage Festival as “family friendly” is an understatement.
More than 60 years old, the festival has grown from food and fun on Connecticut Street to a massive communion between neighbors and friends on Hertel Avenue. It’s here in Buffalo’s Italian neighborhood that locals greeted one another, kissed cheeks and, of course, broke bread.
From Thursday to Sunday, about 450,000 people were expected to celebrate the city’s rich Italian heritage, with 12 children’s rides, activities and games and more than 80 food vendors selling Italian staples including pizza, sausage, cannoli and gelato, said festival spokesman Marco Sciortino.
“My favorite part is just bringing people to our heritage,” Sciortino said.
The following are some of the festival’s food favorites:
• Amici’s porchetta sandwich
Amici’s took home first place as the festival’s “Best Italian Food.”
Joseph DeCecco, who has been working at Amici’s for about 20 years, said the porchetta sandwich is always a crowd pleaser.
The “old-school Italian sub,” he said, features tender shredded pork shoulder bathed in fennel and spices, and finished with broccoli rabe.
Despite dishing out belly-warming food for hundreds of people, DeCecco said his favorite part of the festival is seeing friends year after year.
“It’s more about the family, friends and camaraderie,” he said.
• Campi’s Italian white pizza
Campi’s Pizza of Dunkirk took home gold for best pizza – a nearly 2-inch-thick pizza featuring soft garlic and herb dough, piled high with parmesan, romano and mozarella cheese, then finished off with ricotta, spinach, red onions and tomato.
“Oh my goodness, it’s delicious,” said Lorey Campese, the pizzeria’s doughman.
Though Campese now lives in Brooklyn, the Buffalo native has been working at Campi’s since he was a kid.
For him, the festival was a homecoming. “We’re really proud to be here,” he said. “That’s really it. We love coming out here.”
• Gino’s cannoli and cuccidati
Though Romeo and Juliet’s Bakery and Cafe took gold for this year’s best dessert category, locals also lined up for Gino’s cannoli and cuccidati (fig cookie).
Chris Saglibene used to frequent Gino’s bakery for bread and cannoli after religion class at the former St. Margaret’s School.
“I remember my mom saying, ‘Don’t eat it on the way (home),’ and eating anyway,” he said. “You couldn’t say no.”
This time, Saglibene bought a cannoli for his son, Austin.
“The cheese that they fill with is just awesome,” he said.
Other festival winners included Gina’s (for Italian sausage) and Salvatore’s Italian Garden (decorative booth).
The festival also welcomed a few new additions this year: “The Foxy Diamondz” flash mob, the “Saint James Italian Heritage Dancers” cultural dance troupe and “Food Truck Alley” – a lane of five food trucks.