The sense, last night at the Richmond Italian Street Festival, was of a gauntlet thrown down, of an initiation of a new rivalry between ethnic food festivals: the Italian-Americans of Richmond seemed to be directly challenging the supremacy of the Greek Festival and its heretofore unthreatened preeminence in the cycle of outdoor Richmond events.
Of course, in terms of variety and organization, the Greek Festival wins hands down, but then, they've been putting on their event for what? Forever? They've had practice (and a drive-through too). The nascent Italian Festival is still fumbling with the inevitable missteps and vision lapses any inaugural event entails. The line for wine stretched far, far down the block, the Peroni ran out at the beer truck, and at times I despaired that my children would remain content to watch passersby as I wanly stifled my hunger pangs, and waited out all of the people ahead of me, just to snatch a hot, gooey rice ball* from the stand that at that moment had the relatively shortest line. But if you're not willing to endure long lines and crowds at a Richmond festival, you're better off just staying at home and ordering a pizza from Mary Angela's. You have no business mixing it up on the street.
Although the entertainment was on the thin side and the children's activity section virtually non-existent, I have hope that this festival will blossom and grow over the coming years. I can imagine days and evenings filled with the pungent scent of garlic and performers from the Virginia Opera wandering through the crowds in costume, singing Verdi. I can see more wine booths (separate the red from the white maybe?) and more culinary variety (where was the participation from high-end Italian cuisine, like Amici and La Grotta ?) offered in a more centralized fashion. I'd like to see street musicians (accordions, anyone?) and magicians and most of all, even more of Richmond flocking to the beautiful, restored ambiance of Church Hill to eat some of the best food this town has to offer.
*A ball of cooked aborio rice and tomatoes encircling a hunk of fresh mozzarella, lightly breaded and deep-fried, then smothered in marinara and parmesan. Delicious! And I'd never had one before either.
technorati tags:richmond, food, food and drink