Chow Town

It’s time for meatballs, cannolis and lots of fun at Festa Italiana

Anthony Barulich (left) and Jim Cariddi perform with their band the Gumbas during a recent Festa Italiana.
Anthony Barulich (left) and Jim Cariddi perform with their band the Gumbas during a recent Festa Italiana. The Kansas City Star

How many meatballs and cannolis can you eat? Just imagine sitting down in front of a platter of a couple dozen meatballs. How about a dessert tray filled with cannolis? That’s right my friends, we’re talking about a meatball and cannoli eating contest right here in Kansas City.

One of Kansas City’s favorite festivals, Festa Italiana, the celebration of Italian traditions and Italian-American culture, will once again kick off the summer season at Zona Rosa! This longtime local ethnic festival draws more than 50,000 visitors from across metropolitan Kansas City and beyond. And the cannoli and meatball eating contests are back.

To put on Festa Italiana is not an easy feat. The Italian-American service organization UNICO Kansas City chapter organizes and produces the event with a staff of volunteers.

The number of man-hours necessary to put on this festival is staggering. This dedication of the staff can be attributed to committee members’ desire to promote Italian-American heritage and to raise money for UNICO’s charities.

This year at Festa Italiana there will be an outdoor street soccer tournament and an outdoor Catholic Mass on Sunday and a kids’ zone with bounce houses. Motori in Piazza, the Italian Motorsports Show, returns on the grounds for the hearts of enthusiast everywhere who love Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Ducati and Vespa. Last year, 75 cars, motorcycles and scooters were displayed, making it the largest all-Italian motorsports show in Kansas City.

Come enjoy some of the best Italian food, wine and beer including Italian sausage sandwiches, pizza, pasta, meatballs and the zeppoles from local restaurants, and shop some of our local vendors. Novelty booths will line the streets including Lots of Italiana shirts, hats and other memorabilia representing Italian heritage for the whole family.

Best of all is the entertainment lineup this year. The music and entertainment for Festa Italiana is again organized and headed by Jerry Viviano. Jerry himself is a talented show manager and singer whose versatile talent complements whichever role he performs.

His entertainment lineup is better than ever with Joseph Vincelli, an internationally acclaimed saxophonist, flautist and jazz artist; The Sicilian Tenors; singer Moreno Fruzzetti; Vince Scola; Katherine Viviano; the Cascone Girls; the Gumbas; Tony Antonucci, Frank Vigiaturo & Frank Cherrito; the Viviano Brothers; and Lights Out from Philadelphia, America’s No. 1 tribute to Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons.

Believe me, you will imagine you’re in Italy this weekend so make plans now to attend one of Kansas City finest summer festivals where you can eat, enjoy some great music and join in the fun or a real Italian Festival.

And as for the meatball and cannoli eating contests, no passport needed for this I promise. Just bring your appetite. Mangia Bene!!

Festa Italiana at Zona Rosa is June 2-4. Times run 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.