Every year, St. Anthony’s Italian Festival offers a weeklong celebration of authentic Italian food, culture and lots of family entertainment. Wilmington’s largest summer festival, which concluded on Sunday, also highlights a particular region or town in Italy, and this year’s focus was the still largely undiscovered Apulia region.
Some 70,000 people attended the festival this year, where they had the chance to see a large, three-dimensional scene of the Apulia region with special lighting effects and a banner specially created for the festival that was designed to give visitors a real flavor of being on the coast.
“Visitors were taking a lot of selfies around there,” said Anthony Albence, the operations lead for the festival. “People were really into it!”
Albence describes the region: “Apulia is in the “heel of the boot” of Italy — an enchanting and vibrant region on Italy’s beautiful shoreline with intense blue water and bright white buildings in sharp contrast to the water. Very hearty and verdant agricultural area – broccoli rabe originated from there and Orecchiette pasta’s origin is also in the Apulia region.”
In addition to the special food items from Italy’s coast, festival organizers also sold many plants and flowers that are indigenous to the Puglia region.
The hub of action was at the circolo – a cultural circle between the church and the school that featured the Apulia display and the Il Mercato (market), with imported products — home decorative items and packaged food items from Puglia.
Around the corner, visitors could find homemade Italian fare at Nora Strada (9th Street Cafe) an all-volunteer eatery with porkette, sausage and pepper sandwiches, homemade meatballs and special chicken sandwiches. “We all went to grade school here,” said Anthony Frabizzio, the lead volunteer for Nora Strada. “That’s why we do it.”
“We really do offer something for the entire family,” said Albence. Organizers like to keep the festival grounded as a spiritual event, offering classical music, tours of their historic church, and a special closing Sunday activity which includes a mass in Italian, traditional Italian bands, and a procession of patron saints of Italy. “It’s a very rich kind of traditional, sacred and symbolic experience,” he said.