If you are going to America, bring food.” — Fran Lebowitz
TIME SURE DOES FLY WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN, and I can’t think of anything more fun than the fifth annual Italian Food and Wine Festival to be held at Belmar in Lakewood from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21.
Four years ago, the first festival was held for one day on one block of Alaska Drive and was absolutely jam-packed. So three years ago, they expanded it to two days and two blocks of Alaska Drive, and it was still packed all day long, both days. Last year it was even bigger, ‘cuz they added another block. Now it zigs and zags all over Belmar. Just breathe in the aromas, and you’ll find the grub. Just pray for good weather; you done real good so far. Last year’s crowd was estimated by West Metro Fire Department at more than 100,000 live bodies slurping and stuffing. I estimated that 47,003 went home with very full to overloaded tummies, 46,818 went home very satisfied, 8,999 went home still hungry, and 56 people are still there waiting for this year’s festival.
There’s gonna be tons of entertainment and exhibitions including the internationally renowned flag throwers direct from Florence, Italy, a bocce ball tournament, chef demonstrations, and a grape-stomping bash for the kids. A repeat from last year is a four-time world champion pizza acrobat. What, you ask, is a “pizza acrobat”? That’s a dude who’s gonna (are you ready?) lie on his back, toss pizza dough into the air, and spin it with his feet. Now I ain’t too keen on pizza to begin with, but if you think I’m gonna eat pizza made with stinky toe-tossed dough, you’re nuttier than a fruitcake. If you care, he’ll also stand on a ball blindfolded while spinning the dough. Rah, rah! Ho, ho! Watch a nut job spin the dough! Waddayaknow? It rhymes!
Also new this year is a project sponsored by one of muh fav charities, Project Angel Heart (www.projectangelheart.org). They’ll be running a craft tent for kids where they can decorate Italian-themed bags in which meals will be delivered to folks with life-threatening illnesses. The kids also can make macaroni necklaces to take with them. They might even find a great sauce to go with it at one of the many food booths. There is no cost for participation in the crafts, but donations will be accepted. Project Angel Heart delivers freshly prepared complete meals to more than 750 homes.
There also will be lots of artisan vendors selling everything Italian, including ceramics, leather handbags, flowers, baked goods, glass works, jewelry and art. In addition, wine experts from Republic National Distributing Company will offer mini-seminars and tastings on Italian wine and provide a taste of the country’s best wines for a nominal tasting fee. If you wanna know about the festivities in detail, visit the Belmar website at www.belmarcolorado.com. I’m here to talk about the grub.
At this writing, there are almost 30 vendors serving meals, sangies and snacks, several wine vendors, and another two dozen vendors offering merchandise and services, including several travel agencies that specialize in tours to Italy. G and I can be found at the travel agency booths. Eating, of course. Now, on to the grub.
I assume y’all know that food will be for sale (as opposed to freebie samples) but at very reasonable prices. Also this year, a group of chefs, including muh fav chef of chefs, Frank Bonanno (Mizuna, Luca D’ Italia, Osteria Marco) will share recipes and show off their skills at daily chef demonstrations.
That sed, here’s who’ll be serving real food and what they’ll be serving:
• Abrusci’s Italian Restaurant: (3244 Youngfield St, 303-232-2424; www.abruscis.com). Owner Steve Progar and his talented crew will be offering sausage sangies and rigatoni. If you want some of their fabulous house made tiramisu, you’ll have to go to the restaurant and get it there. Certainly worth the trip.
• Avanti Catering: A specialized caterer will be serving Italian beef steak; meataballs; sautéed zucchini; sausage sangies and sausage on a stick.
• Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market: (7585 W. Florida Ave, 303-985-3555). Tony and the mob (but such a nice family mob) will be serving their house-made sausage on a sangie; cannolis; pizelle cookies and pepper shooters (whatever the heck them things are).
• Chef Michael Schock of Chef in a Flash (a private caterer) will team up with Canino’s Sausage Company, and together they will be offering stuffed peppers; minestrone with spicy Italian sausage; veggie puff pastry pie with Italian roasted vegetables; and mini quiche with sausage and roasted peppers. Those of you with allergies, note that the stuffed peppers and the minestrone will be gluten-free.
• Grammy’s Italian Cookies: Cookies; pizza & sausage cannolis; dessert cannolis; spumoni ice cream and giant crispy treat chippers.
• Lucky Strike Lanes: (415 S. Teller St, 303-935-5793; www.bowlluckystrike.com). The fine folks at this terrific bowling alley and restaurant will be peddling stuffed peppers as well as a “salad-on-a-skewer”: marinated mozzarella, garden fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil in balsamic vinaigrette. If you ain’t dined at this very family-friendly bowling alley with really great grub, you’re missing out on a fun evening. Just don’t bring a cell phone cuz you can’t get any reception there. Maybe some day.
• Mici Handcrafted Italian: (1531 Stout St, 303-629-6424; www.miciitalian.com) will be serving their popular pizza slices; Sugo e Pane (sauce and bread with a meatball); Fiorintine cookies and Italian wedding soup. Watch out for the bald guy.
• Nonna’s Chicago Bistro & Wine Bar: (6603 Leetsdale Drive, 303-399-2000; www.coloradoeats.com/nonnas) will be serving meataball sangies; chocolate cannolis; sausage sangies; sausage on a stick and their unbelievable wonderful Eye-talian beef and sausage combo sangie. Another terrific Italian restaurant. If you ain’t never been, go. Lunch and dinner, call for reservs.
• Polidori Meats: (3327 Tejon St, 303-455-5701; http://polidorimeats.com). These guys will serve sausage & peppers; sausage on a stick; sausage sangies and bratwurst. Great sausage company.
• The Oven Pizza e Vino: Certainly the best eatery in Belmar. They’re gonna do what they do best: Pizza. But pizza like you’ve never had before. Unless you’ve been to Rome and had it on the streets of that great city. Or been to The Oven.
• Three Sons Italian Restaurant: (2915 W. 44th Ave, 303-455-4366; www.threesons.net). These nice folks will be feeding the masses Italian beef sangies, meataball sangies, and veggie risotto. Ain’t never been to their place? Shame. New owners a coupla years back, but still great grub in the old tradition.
• Tonali’s Meats: (6260 W. 52nd Ave, 303-940-8700). This family of butchers will be serving up some mighty fine steak and peppers.
• Virgilio’s Pizzeria Napoletana: (7986 W. Alameda Ave, 303-985-2777; www.virgiliospizzeria.com). One of Denver’s Best Pizzerias will be offering meataballs, cannolis and, of course, their famed pizza.
Most of the next dozen or so vendors don’t operate restaurants but will be serving snacks and dessert items. I’m not going to list their addresses, cuz if you like their stuff you can get that info from the folks in their booth. That is, if they want you to know how to find them.
• Banana & Fragola: These folks will serve fragola (fruit kabobs); torta al formaggio (cheesecake and bign’e alla panna (cream puffs). Like I always say, “if you gotta ask what it is, you shouldn’t ask, cuz you probably don’t want to know.” And that’s the truth!
• Espo’s Cucina Dolce: gelato & sorbetto. Good stuff. You can find Espo’s gelato in most supermarkets around town. And here of course.
• Loredana’s Pesto: pesto, balsamic vinaigrettes, asiago and parmesan cheeses
• Luigi’s Pizza Fritta: pizza fritta
• Marcello’s: gelato and Italian cake.
• Mt Carmel Men’s Club: pizzelles and biscotti.
• Pane Fresco: ciabatta bread, focaccetta, cookies, desserts.
• PastAmore II: vinegars and olive oils
• PastAmore III: dried pasta and seasonings
• Rustica Baking: crackers, flatbreads, cookies, biscotti, foccacia and Italian breadsticks.
• The Press Coffee Company: cappuccino, latte and mocha.
I forgot to mention the Balistreri Vineyards Children’s Grape Stomp is gonna cause a bunch of folks to fall over and try to drink the guk from their feet. It isn’t a pleasant sight, and I am told that it isn’t a pleasant taste either.
Be sure to get there early, plan to stay late, visit the website, www.belmarcolorado.com, and click on the link for Festival Italiano, and pray for good weather.
Disclaimer: Note that at the time I am writing this, the festival is more than two weeks away, so I am not responsible for any of the following errors: Typos (cuz it’s late at nite when I am writing this). Vendors dropping out. New vendors coming in. Vendors changing their mind about what they are serving. Bad food (cuz there won’t be any). Bad drink (depends on your definition of bad). Lousy entertainment (well, you never know about these things). Bad weather (talk to HER). Nor am I responsible for anything I failed to tell you that I wasn’t responsible for.
A final note about the food. Unfortunately it’s not possible for the vendors to post all the ingredients in all the dishes. Many of you suffer from a variety of food allergies. Be sure to tell the vendor about your allergies before buying something. In this kind of event, some of the vendor’s employees will not be familiar with the ingredients. In that case, ask them to check with the chef or owner. Also, be sure to bring your allergy medicine with you.
G and I will be there stuffing and slurping along with tens of thousands of other folks so if you don’t go and have a good time, tuff bananas.
Jay Fox is the dining critic for The Colorado Statesman.