I love Italian food.
It seems odd because the closest my family blood line comes to Italy is my great-grandfather’s short stay during his deployment in World War I.
But my love of pasta, tomato sauce and Italian food of all kinds is unquestioned.
And it is with that appetite that I look forward to the first weekend of August and the annual St. Marco Italian Food Festival.
For more than 80 years, the Saint Marco Society has been a gathering place where Italian-Americans preserve their Old World food and culture. And for two days each year, their headquarters in Temple becomes a gathering place for people of all backgrounds to come experience the culinary delights of Italy, including their famous lasagna.
I cannot fathom how many pans of lasagna (both meat and cheese filled) the servers go through over the course of a weekend, but it seems like there is a continuous line for 48 hours. And for good reason.
The paper-thin pasta is piled high (I counted at least 10 layers ) and topped with the smoothest tomato sauce I have ever seen. It ladles on like a thick soup, drowning the lasagna while creating a small moat around it.
Everything about the lasagna is outstanding, which is why my wife has had one every year since we started attending the festival five years ago.
But there are other delicious options as well, including my personal favorite, the porchetta sandwich.
Slow-roasted, juicy pork heaped on a kaiser roll and (for a well-spent extra dollar) topped with broccoli rabe, the sandwich is everything Philly pork sandwiches strive to be. The pork absorbs so much flavor from the seasonings its cooked in, and the broccoli rabe adds just a hint of bitterness to make a sandwich that I never want to put down.
There are plenty of other options including meatball sandwiches, crispelles (fried dough with or without meat) and, ironically enough, French fries.
And then there are the desserts, which include homemade biscotti, pizzelles and for those who crave something creamy, gelato.
At first glance, three dollars seems like a lot to pay for a small cup of dessert, but the gelato is very filling, especially after such a big dinner. I decided to try the mixed berry while my wife opted for chocolate chip (chocolate and mocha are also on the menu). There were whole berries (blueberries, I think, though it was hard to tell while frozen) mixed in with my rich scoops while the chocolate chips were mixed in with a creamy vanilla base in my wife’s.
While we enjoyed our dessert, we ventured around to the opposite side of the building to take in a little of the action on the bocce courts. The tournament seems to have quite a following of its own with lawn chairs surrounding the perimeter and only a few small spaces to stand around the fence.
The Saint Marco Italian Food Festival is one of my favorite food events each year. Even as someone who cannot identify with Italian culture, I certainly identify with delicious food.