Dayton’s Italian community welcomes you to their annual Fall Festa
By Jennifer Hanauer
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment that you are thousands of miles away from Dayton, across an ocean and sunning yourself by the Mediterranean Sea on the coast of Italy. Somewhere the lilt of an accordion accompanies the sounds of playful children and the aromas of a simmering sauce waft out from a nearby kitchen, promising a bevy of epicurean delights to be had.
Now open your eyes. Yes, you are still in Dayton, but this weekend you won’t need to suffer any airport security or cross any borders to get a taste of Italy. The John Pirelli Lodge #1633 of the Order of Sons of Italy in America will be hosting their 34th Annual Italian Fall Festa, a three-day event celebrating Italian culture, food and family on September 9, 10 and 11.
This year the John Pirelli Lodge expects to host up to 40,000 visitors for its Festa and they fully intend to feed every last one. Dinner will be served each night in the lodge, with baked pasta on Friday, stuffed shells on Saturday and spaghetti and meatballs on Sunday. Outside, throughout the day, every mouthwatering manner of Italian fare will be set up in booths over the grounds, from pasta fagioli to cannoli.
And guests will be tasting authentic Italian made by authentic Italians.
“We don’t outsource for anything,” said Fall Festa chairman, Brian Andzik. “We do it all ourselves.” Quite the task to tackle.
What festival-celebrating Italian culture would be complete without spaghetti? A lot of spaghetti. The Spaghetti Eating Contest held on Sunday draws as many onlookers as it does ravenous pasta enthusiasts. The competition is divided into three age groups and all participants are denied the use of utensils. The children are faced with one plate of spaghetti, the young adults with two and the adults with three.
The air will be filled not just with delicious aromas, but also with the sounds of Italy. Performances from Ray Massa will be had both Friday and Saturday night, and Focus Point will play Saturday afternoon. For the entirety of Sunday, the Club Swing Band will be joining the Festa direct from Italy, encouraging celebrants to show their stuff on the event’s dance floor.
More opportunities abound to burn off some of the Festa’s delectable cuisine. The John Pirelli Lodge boasts some of the finest bocce courts in all of Ohio, and, while use is typically limited to league and tournament play, the courts will be open to the public all weekend, allowing families and friends some healthy competition.
“I see people out there age nine to 89,” said Andzik. “It’s a game for everyone.”
“Aha!” I thought smugly to myself, “I’m not even the median age for this sport. I bet I can do this!”
As it turns out, I can sort of do this. Curiosity, adventure, and a confounding desire to completely embarrass myself took hold of me and I asked an Italian friend to help me learn bocce.
It was explained to me simply enough: “It’s like horseshoes. Kind of.” I’ve also had it described as lawn bowling, but honestly I’ve never had the pleasure of playing either. The best I can describe it to a Daytonian is that it’s like cornhole, but with bocce balls instead of beanbags. Also, absent is the inclined platform at which to aim. Instead, a small white ball called a pallino is thrown first and the goal of the subsequently thrown bocce balls is to land as close to the pallino as possible, with points awarded for every one of your bocce balls that is closer than your opponent’s best throw.
Throughout the course of my bocce education, I managed to heave my bocce balls with a little more consistency, but they still seemed to have no intention whatsoever of conversing with that teeny tiny pallino. I have decided to markedly up my game when I head to the courts at the Festa. The best discovery while learning to play bocce ball was how sublimely pleased I was every time I heard the sound of one bocce ball striking another with a distinctive “clink.” More satisfying than popping a Snapple cap. Small pleasures.
Other events to be held at the Festa will include the Meatball Madness 5K that will be run Sunday at 10:30 a.m. And football fans need not fret about missing any action; big screens will be set up under the tents playing the Bengals vs. Browns game.
The Festa will be held at Bella Villa Hall at 2625 County Line Road in Kettering. The event begins Friday, September 9 at 6 p.m., running to 11 p.m. that night, from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, and from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free and parking will be available next door in the Reynolds and Reynolds parking lot with a shuttle running to the event. Visit the Festa’s website at www.italianfallfesta.com for maps and directions.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer at JenniferHanauer@DaytonCityPaper.com.