I finally made it over the 18th Avenue for the Festa di Santa Rosalia and my plan was to eat a bit of everything and report back to you on the best. Unfortunately, it was far more food than I could handle and I was forced to tap out after just three full dishes and a beverage. But some things looked too good not to share, and I hope to get back before the event ends on Sunday for some more grub. Until then, enjoy this roundup of some of the festival’s delectable options, and share your favorites in the comments.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t kick this list off with one of the most traditional options on the menu, panelle. These Sicilian fritters are made of ground up chickpea flour, deep fried and slapped on a chewy sesame roll. It’s a popular street food in Palermo, and given that the 10-day festival is here to celebrate the patron saint of Palermo, it should be the first thing you should dig into to do proper honor to the Italian sister city and Santa Rosalia.
It seemed to only be available at one stand – Pete’s Zeppoles, at the corner of 71st Street. It runs $5. I gave mine a proper dousing of fresh lemon juice and dug in. As good as the panelle was – and it was my first time having it – I was struck by the freshness of the perfect little roll that held it together. And I also have to give props to Giovanni di Napoli, whose blog post brought its existence to my attention.
While panelle might be a feast tradition for Sicilians, sausage and peppers are the staple of any New York City street fair. So I hit up Lucy’s stand to get mine. The sausage – hot or sweet – runs $7. The roll was a little tough until the sausage delicious grease softened it up for me, and then it went down my gullet in mere seconds. The onions are worth a mention: I could’ve eaten a plate of these alone, simmered to perfection in the sausage’s runoff.
It looked like Lucy’s had a number of traditional Sicilian items as well, including stagghiola (roasted intestines) and the beautiful grilled octopus at the top of this post. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try any; the stand’s surly counter-girl (possibly Lucy?) was in too much of a rush to help the next customer – even though there wasn’t any.
A Neopolitan pizzaiola apparently took a wrong turn and ended up the Sicilian feast, but I’m glad he did. This little cart makes fresh baked personal pies while you wait. Mine took about three minutes as he stretched the dough, spread the sauce, placed the fresh mozzarella and a sprig of basil and baked it in the wood-fueled oven.
It came out looking like this. For $8, it was a great deal compared to the cost of some of the other items at the festival, and had a nice charred taste.
With a long bike ride home and a belly full of fried, greasy things, I had to tap out after the pizza. But these arancini – rice balls – looked great. And the guys behind the counter were having a ball screaming out “I got balls!”, the name of the business.
Aside from Italian fare, there were a number of Colombian stands hawking arepas, empenadas and chicharron. These guys are at every fair and were a little out of the festival’s theme, so I didn’t have any – but those turkey legs (which I haven’t seen at these stands before) looked fantastic.
I know, I know. I went to a festival and didn’t get a single zeppole or fried Oreo. Honestly? I don’t regret that. But I do regret not stopping for the candied marshmallows. It wasn’t just a beautiful display – the stand smelled fantastic and I might return just to correct my mistake in not getting them the first time.
As for beverages? Real men drink pink.
Did I miss something that’s an absolutely must-try at the festival? Let me know in the comments so I can grab a bite before the event’s end.
The feast continues until August 31. It runs from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends, stretching down 18th Avenue from 67th Street to 75th Street.