AMSTERDAM — The familiar aroma of classic Italian dishes will once again waft over Bridge Street when the city celebrates part of its heritage during ItaliaFest on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The South Side will be transformed into Little Italy with decorations, flags, an array of activities and huge amounts of food when ItaliaFest returns this weekend following its absence last year due to the pandemic.
“We have it all,” said Michele Pawlik, assistant recreation director. “We can’t wait to see everybody out. We’re very excited to have this back up and running again.”
The event, now in its fifth year, was started to celebrate the Italian heritage within the city by drawing visitors to the South Side for an event showcasing the local Italian restaurants.
The daylong affair has grown into one of the city’s largest annual events organized by the Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department. ItaliaFest is sponsored again this year by River Ridge Living Center.
The event will feature free amusement park rides, carnival games and bounce houses. The Knights of Columbus will be hosting games of chance alongside a variety of goods that will be offered by vendors. Live Italian music will set the stage throughout the day from Louie & Lisa Velez, Music For Life and The Joey Thomas Big Band.
In the grand tradition of the Italian masters, local artists will have a chance to showcase and sell their work during the inaugural Art in the Park in the Southside Veterans Park. Some artists will produce new work upon request during the side attraction that Pawlik said the city is hoping will grow into its own event in the future.
Of course, the South Side will be filled with Italian specialties prepared by local restaurants, bakeries and food trucks alongside vendors serving up traditional fair food for a festive and appetizing atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a good day of eating,” Pawlik said. “We’ll have everything.”
One of the city’s newest staples, Lorenzo’s Southside, will be sharing the Lanzi family’s homemade cuisine through a takeout window and outdoor tent in front of the restaurant at 1 Port Jackson Square during ItaliaFest. An outdoor bar will also be offered.
The restaurant will not be open for normal table service due to the large crowds expected on Saturday, according to General Manager Gaetano Lanzi, who said Lorenzo’s Southside will still be serving its homemade pasta and meatballs, neapolitan wood fired pizza and cannolis.
“We’ll be doing a limited menu, but everything on the menu is going to be nothing short of great,” Gaetano said.
The restaurant features 100-year-old family recipes handed down through the Lanzi family to the fourth generation that opened and runs Lorenzo’s: brothers Gaetano, Giacomo and Giuseppi and cousin Antonio.
Gaetano is looking forward to sharing pasta made from his great grandfather’s recipe and the traditional neapolitan pizza the family specially trained to prepare during ItaliaFest for the first time after the restaurant opened last year in the midst of the pandemic.
“This is where we started 100 years ago, our family has a lot of history here. It’s great to be a part of Amsterdam and all the fun activities going on,” Gaetano said. “We’re a true family business, we’re fourth generation and we love serving the community.”
The family will be serving community members vying to stuff their faces the fastest during the second annual spaghetti eating contest at 5:30 p.m. Contestants will be treated to a first rate meal while racing to eat one pound of homemade spaghetti with traditional red sauce prepared by contest sponsor, Lorenzo’s.
“We only serve homemade pasta at Lorenzo’s. We don’t buy it, we make it. That’s what sets us apart,” Gaetano said. “We take a lot of pride in our food.”
Among the entrants will be 2019 spaghetti eating contest champion Rocco Natale, who Pawlik said will try to defend his title. The winner will take home a trophy and a $100 gift card to enjoy a more leisurely future meal at Lorenzo’s.
Area competitors seeking a more mature arena in which to test their skills need look no further than ItaliaFest’s inaugural wine-making contest. Amateur and professional creators alike can enter their homemade wine into the contest sponsored by Lorenzo’s.
Locals will have a chance to taste their way through the entrants at Lorenzo’s at 6 p.m. to choose the people’s choice for best red and white wine. The contest will also feature a second class of winners in the same categories selected through blind judging from wine distributors and possibly a sommelier, Gaetano said. One wine will be selected as the overall best in show.
Lorenzo’s will put some skin in the game by entering three of its house made wines into the contest: a bourbon barrel red blend, a chardonnay aged in bourbon barrel and a cabernet syrah blend aged in an imported French oak barrel.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this. We’re excited. We make wine every year and I think it’s cool to share with the public and the city of Amsterdam,” Gaetano said.
After a day of food and fun, the evening will be capped off with a fireworks display over the Mohawk River at 9 p.m. The final pyrotechnics show of the year will be the city’s largest.
“We are open and ready for everyone to come and spend an amazing day and night with us on the South Side,” Pawlik said.
ItaliaFest will take place on Bridge Street on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The event is open to the public and free to attend. Parking will be available at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church at 39 St. John St. with shuttle service provided by the city to the event.
For more information about ItaliaFest or to enter one of the featured events, contact Michele Pawlik by email at [email protected]
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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