Last weekend I headed to Little Italy to finish research for an article on the upcoming Festa Siciliana. On Sunday, May 17, traditions of Italian art, music and food will come alive during the annual festa, now in it’s 16th year.
I met with Giovanna De Bono, her husband Tony (both belong to Roman Holiday – a group that sings and preforms Italian music at the festa and other venues), Bernadette Tarantino and her husband Mike Malone – she and Giovanna do much of the planning for the festa and Bernadette and her husband run Tarantino Gourmet Sausages – and Joe Busalacchi, owner of Trattoria Fantastica (where we all met for dinner) as well as six other Italian restaurants in and around Little Italy.
I learned a lot about the history of Little Italy. San Diego was the destination for many Sicilian immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. Little Italy’s neighborhood, bounded on the south by Ash Street, on the north by Laurel, on the east by the I-5 freeway and on the west by San Diego Harbor, is steeped in the history of the Sicilian families that originally settled the neighborhood in the early 1900s.
By 1930, some 6,000 Italian families who had migrated from coastal fishing villages in Genoa and Sicily had settled in what is now known as Little Italy. In 1967 the idyllic community was shattered when the I-5 freeway was cut south to downtown and broke the neighborhood up, scattering Sicilian families into pockets all over San Diego. It remained that way until the early 1990’s, when new real estate and retail development began to revitalize the neighborhood. In 1993, baker Mario Cefalu pulled together a few restaurants and bands to bring everyone back to the old neighborhood again – and the first Festa Siciliana was born.
Over the past 15 years, the festival has grown to include three stages housing singers, dancers and Italian bands, a Sicilian flag procession, children’s rides, arts and jewelry booths, a beer and wine garden, a Sicilian cultural center manned by residents sharing old photographs and memories and dozens of booths offering traditional Sicilian food.
Here is some of the wonderful food we sampled at Trattoria Fantastica:
Here is what my plate looked like – a sampling of all this yummy food.
Trattoria Fantasica owner Joe Bosalacchi joined us for dessert and more wine and shared stories of growing up in Little Italy.
We shared dessert – my fave was a wonderful canneloni that tasted like the ones I had in Sicily. Joe then escorted us to his neighboring restaurant (he owns seven) Po Pazzo, an upscale grill complete with a long bar and music.
Giovanna and her husband Tony are musicians and they serenaded us and the crowd of diners with a few songs.
Joe also got up and performed a nice rendition of “My Way,” accompanied by Giovanna’s husband Tony.
We all had a wonderful time – great food and lots of wonderful stories about the Little Italy neighborhood.
Be sure to hop on the train or drive down to San Diego to try some great Sicilian food, hear some music, and enjoy Little Italy at the May 17 Festa Siciliana.