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The Italian Festival- Pranzo Buono

The Italian Heritage Festival opened today. I decided that heading there for lunch was a good plan- less people, nice weather, and of course, fantastic fair food served up Italian-style.
The wind gusts blowing down Hertel were lovely, the only drawback being that they cooled my food a little too quickly. There are over 50 food vendors at the event, not to mention stands and tents selling tshirts and other goods. A dunk tank, games of chance promoting local businesses, a live music stage and various carnival rides are also present. But you don’t need me to tell you much about the festival, I’m sure you’ve been going since you were a tyke.
For lunch I started at La Marina’s stand with the crab cakes. The $5 portion here is very close to the portion they serve on their regular menu for somewhere around $10. The cakes are made of very finely minced crab, aromatics and seasonings, and coated with a pleasantly crunchy crust made of panko, a Japanese bread crumb. The sauce has zip without the heat and nicely complements the crispy, dense cake. Two of these for $5 are quite a deal by any standards; nonetheless the one’s applied to fair-size portions.
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Italian sausage with peppers and onions was certainly on my list. At fairs and festivals I try to taste things that I wouldn’t normally make at home, but the Italian Festival just isn’t the Italian Festival without sausage. I could have gone with Mineo & Sappio, they offer a popular and consistent product- my husband loves them. But I chose to visit the stand run by Hertel’s own Johnny’s Meat. My sausage was flavorful and tender, the roll soft. The peppers and onions were cooked through, which is a plus, but I do prefer them with some caramelization. Still, I think that mine was better than the hubby’s; I’ll definitely be stopping into Johnny’s sometime soon.
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Sorrento has a nice set up, and as sponsors of the festival they’ve decided to give away samples of fresh mozzarella. To make it more interesting they’ve dressed it up, and I’m relieved to say that they’ve done it without meatballs or marinara sauce, pesto or pasta. The sizable sample included mandarin oranges, field greens, a few thinly sliced almonds and a mild vinaigrette. It was a refreshing application for the all-too common formaggio.
For dessert, the kids went for chocolate gelato from Gelato G, which was also carrying adorable ice cream cone-shaped cookies from Dolci on Elmwood. The gelato was fantastic, though it was a race to finish it before the sun sent it drizzling down the sides of the cone.
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I chose to have a hand-filled cannoli from Muscarella’s, a business with deep Western New York roots, but we’ll talk more about that sometime in the next few days. Needless to say it hit the spot. The “cheese” version is made with chocolate chips, ricotta and vanilla and the “cream” version is filled with a Bavarian-style cream. I chose the cheese, filled to order, with a shell that was perfectly crisp with every bite. This cannoli stands a cut above those that sit, languishing in the humid display cases of other vendors.
The Italian Festival runs today through Sunday. Despite my efforts, I have had a hard time finding actual opening and closing times for the festival, but the entertainment schedule has acts booked from Noon until 10 PM, so my guess is that anytime after 12 PM is a safe bet.
Stop down Friday night between 6:30 and 8 to see BR’s own Elena Buscarino sing the classics with the acclaimed Jim Tudini Band.
Italian Heritage Festival, July 12-15, Hertel Avenue between Delaware & Colvin, http://www.buffaloitalianfestival.com

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