Generation to generation work up an appetite, Italians and non-Italians of all ages and nationalities, in Baltimore and beyond! Feast of Saint Gabriele Italian Festival hits the streets of Little Italy August 20-21 to offer a gastronomical and engaging weekend in the heart of ‘The Neighborhood’ at Saint Leo’s Church (established 1881; listed on National Register of Historic Places by U.S. Department of the Interior).
Parishioners have honored Saint Gabriele annually since 1928 after a group founded the Saint Gabriele Confraternity: John Matricciani, Dominic Pompa, Charles Piccarelli, Guglielmo DiAntonis, Camilio Iacoboni, and Signori Thomasso, Angelozzi and Gabriele. Today, their descendants and other families continue to volunteer tirelessly to honor their ancestors who planned and worked the same festival, in the same spot, preparing the same food, with the same goal: to support Saint Leo’s Church in one of their major fundraisers. A dedicated festival committee works for months to nail down every detail from vino to meatballs.
“The Saint Gabriele Festival has a long tradition based on the five ‘F’s: faith, family, friends, food and fun,” said Dominic Pompa, chair of the festival committee.
Expect bocce and vendors: Take home a Little Italy souvenir or purchase a gift while shopping vendors offering fresh pasta, olive oil, Italian cookies, ceramic, jewelry, artwork, Ravens / Orioles memorabilia, Italian-themed T-shirts and more during this pedestrian-friendly celebration open Saturday noon-8pm and Sunday 11am-7pm. Grab a seat on one of the crooked red, white and green benches inside the bocce courts – if you can squeeze in – to watch this popular and archaic game, considered the oldest known sport in world history believed to have been played as early as 5000 BC and eventually adopted by the Romans. A bocce tournament runs both festival days; teams donate a portion of fees to Saint Leo’s.
Practice speaking Italian or compete in sausage-eating: Chat with the natives of Italy or folks who grew up in the charming ethnic neighborhood as many return to their roots to attend and work the festival. A highlight is the sausage-eating contest sponsored by the local Roma Sausage (Sunday 3 pm), adorned with live costumed Roman gladiators primed with muscles and smiles to take selfies with festival goers.
Partake in street procession: After 9:30 Mass Sunday, black-robed “monks” in imitation of the saint escort Saint Gabriele’s statue through the streets – some men have participated in this activity for more than 50 years! The toted banner is the original one from 1928. Saint Leo’s Knights of Columbus Color Guard lead the way in their regalia of colorful feathered plumes and buttoned uniforms carrying the American, Italian and Maryland flags. Saint Leo’s clergy, altar servers and young “angels” follow behind, along with a marching band and dignitaries. In bygone days, long strings of incandescent lights swung from tall poles to light up the festival at night; today a lone “S” and a “G” (for San Gabriele) are the only remnants from that era and are hung on the church’s façade before and during the festival.
MANGIA! Fried dough may now cost more than 10 cents as it once did; yet it’s made equally as scrumptious as Nonna’s. Mouths will be watering by the time folks are handed this sugary, hot treat freshly deep-fried and sprinkled with a choice of two sugars. The Pompa family has operated the dough stand for several generations. More gastronomical food choices include: calzone, porchetta, broccoli rabe, sausage and peppers, meatball subs, cannoli, pizza, pasta, and chicken and eggplant Parmigiano. Wash it all down with Italian or domestic beer, vino, Italian Ice Tea, Bocce Balls or old-fashioned fresh-squeezed lemonade, a stand operated by the Barbieri family.
“These Italian festivals hold profound meaning and grand memories for those of us who grew up in ‘The Neighborhood,’ said Pompa, “as we continue to honor our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins before us.”
Buon divertimento … alla festa!
LITTLE ITALY STREET CLOSURES AUG 20-21: Exeter Street will be closed to traffic between Fawn and Pratt Streets; Stiles Street will be closed between High & Lloyd Streets. Also closed will be one block between Albemarle & High. (High Street will remain open.)