One hundred-fifty pounds of ground chuck. Eleven dozen eggs. Oodles of bread crumbs. Secret seasonings. All hand-rolled into 1,200 reddish orbs, which are covered in oil and baked. Mama meatballs! It must be time for an Italian festival.
This weekend, LIADO, the Italian-American Women of Today, hosts the eighth annual San Gennaro Festa, which is styled after the famed New York City Feast of San Gennaro. The celebration takes place Saturday and Sunday at Safety Harbor Marina Park.
Besides raising money for worthy causes and providing the community with food and fun, the event highlights the cultural contributions of the boot-shaped Mediterranean country, said Barb Abela, co-chair of the event and vice president of LIADO, a local organization for Italian-American women with an active membership of 125.
"This is a special festival for Italian people because it helps us maintain our roots and pass our heritage to our children and grandchildren," she said. "It's also a way to share a realistic, positive view of Italian-American culture and heritage with our community."
The festival pays reverence to San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, said to protect the Italian city from natural disasters and plagues.
It begins at noon Saturday with a traditional religious procession in which the statue of San Gennaro is carried from the piazza near the park's fountain to the stage abutting the waterfront.
Then it's two days of merrymaking with grape stomping for the children, meatball- and cannoli-eating contests, puppet shows, street performers, genealogy experts, bocce ball, and children's crafts and games.
Entertainment includes the Da Vinci Brothers Comedy Opera, tarantella dancers, singers and musicians.
Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Joey Dee and the Starliters (known for the song Peppermint Twist) will headline the event. The band's leader, Joey Dee (real name Joseph DiNicola), is Italian-American.
On Sunday at 4 p.m., Tampa Bay's Bobby Palermo, another Italian-American, will share his best Neil Diamond impersonations.
Enjoy the entertainment while dining on meatball gyros, pasta fagioli (bean soup), calamari, sausage and peppers, and pizza. Top it off with a cappuccino paired with Italian delicacies like zeppoli (deep-fried Italian donuts) and pizzelles (waffle cookies).
Take a stroll through the "Tuscan Piazza," a cafe-like setting with scenes of Italy where you can sip wine and take in the scenic waterfront.
Admission for those 12 and older is $4. Proceeds from the Festa will benefit the St. Joseph's Children's Cancer Research Group, autistic students at Paul B. Stevens Exceptional Student Education Center, the Alzheimer's Foundation of America and the LIADO scholarship program.
"If you can't make it to Italy this weekend, come see us and have a real Italian adventure," Abela said.
Have an idea for a Diversions feature in north Pinellas? Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at [email protected]