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Italian Culture Takes Center Stage at Bronx's Ferragosto Festival Sunday

By Jeanmarie Evelly | September 8, 2012 11:46am

BELMONT — Thousands of visitors will flock to the Bronx's Little Italy this Sunday, as the neighborhood celebrates its annual Ferragosto festival — an Italian tradition that marks the end of the summer season with food and festivities. 

Restaurants, food markets and other merchants from the Belmont area will showcase their goods along Arthur Avenue, while musical guests and other entertainment are scheduled to perform throughout the day.

"This is commonly acknowledged as our biggest and most successful festival all year," said Frank Franz, chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District.

Over 20,000 people attended the Ferragosto festival last year, he said, adding that they aim to make the event a different experience than the typical New York City street fair.

"This is really more of an upscale food and cultural fair," Franz said. "We have a million shops up here, many of them 50 to 100 years old, many of them still owned by the original families, and they come out here and display their delicacies."

Teitel Brothers, a third generation family shop on Arthur Avenue known for its imported Italian specialty products, will be offering samples of their provolone and parmigiana cheeses and tastings for their three different kinds of olive oils, according to owner Gil Teitel, whose father and uncle opened the store in 1915.

"Same spot, same family," Teitel said.  

Organizers say the history of the neighborhood is on display during Ferragosto, as families who used to live in the area but have since moved return each year from across the country for the occasion. 

"It's like everyone who came from this neighborhood comes back, so you run into dozens of your friends and neighbors and classmates," Franz said. 

Frank Romano, 65, who grew up on East 187th Street and Belmont Avenue but moved in the 1970s, came all the way from Palm Beach, Florida, to attend the festival. 

"We always come back to the neighborhood--my roots are here," said Romano, who brought his wife, three daughters and a niece along. 

"We call it a family reunion," said Jerome Raguso, owner of Gino's Pastry Shop on East 187th Street, whose known around the neighborhood as the "Cannoli King" and will be serving as the MC of the festival. 

Scheduled entertainers include a Frank Sinatra tribute singer, doo-wop band The Bronx Wanderers and a performance by singer Dominic Chinanese, known for playing the role of Uncle Junior on "The Sopranos."

Other celebrity faces have been spotted at the fair in past years, including actor Chazz Palminteri of "A Bronx Tale," who grew up in the neighborhood and is a Ferragosto regular.

On Friday, workers at the famous Arthur Avenue Retail Market were getting ready for Sunday. David Greco, owner of Mike's Deli, said they'd been chopping and packaging torrone--an Italian dessert made of honey and almonds--for two days straight.

"My kitchen's been making hundreds of rice balls," he said, adding that the community looks forward to the festival every year. 

"It's a way of keeping tradition, showing people what a real Italian neighborhood does," he said. 

Peter's Meat Market, a family-owned butcher shop inside the retail market, is even planning a good old-fashioned pig roast. 

"It's once year," said owner Michael Rella. "So we go all out."