A hungry girl's adventures in Cleveland and beyond.

When most people think of Cleveland's Little Italy, they think of The Feast of the Assumption.  They are also known for their Columbus Day parade.  This year, I found out about another wonderful annual event, the Taste of Little Italy. It's an annual fundraiser for the Montessori School at Holy Rosary that features food, wine, silent and live auctions, a raffle and live entertainment.

When I first heard of the event, my curiosity was piqued.  Of course I would be interested in an Italian themed food event!  But there weren't many specifics on the website so I was wondering if I should spend the $70 on a virtual unknown. When I found a Living Social deal that cut the price in half, I couldn't resist.

When we arrived, we were greeted by festive decorations and helpful staff. They checked us in, gave us each a wine glass and explained that in addition to the giant food tent, there was a room for desserts inside.  This was sounding great already!

Le Dolce Cafe was full of desserts and coffee
When we entered the tent, we were overwhelmed with the sheer volume of vendors! Over 30 food booths were set up for our eating pleasure.  And from what we could tell, there were plenty of wine booths too.  We decided to head left and make our way around clockwise so we wouldn't miss any.  We started out with some olives, cheese and roasted red peppers and a glass of wine. Then we scoped out the surroundings. 

I was happy to see Murray Hill Market there because the owner is a friend of a friend and I've been dying to try the food there.  She was offering apples with marscapone and paper-thin slices of fried eggplant.
Michele Iacobelli Buckholtz, owner

Another place that was on my must try list was  Washington Place Bistro.  I went to their restaurant once before and was looking forward to another taste.  I loved the presentation of a corn chowder in mugs - easy to carry, cute and delicious!
Michaelangelo's was another must taste for me.  Chef Michael Annodono was a featured chef for a Cleveland International Film Fest Film Feast and he really impressed me.  They offered cavatelli with a veal, muscovy duck, guinea fowl and tomato-barolo ragu - what a mouthful!  A delicious mouthful!

Gusto was there too and their offering was a mixed green salad with berries.  It was delicious but I was disappointed because I know that their kitchen really makes some fantastic pasta.

The reincarnated Club Isabella is the new kid on the block in Little Italy. I loved the original restaurant and was eager to see what they were cooking.  Their short ribs were tender and flavorful.  I liked that they were served on mini bamboo skewers - no fork needed!
A special treat of the event was the Loretta Paganini International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute booth.  They were making homemade pasta on site.  It was served with a fresh tomato sauce that took advantage of the abundance of seasonal ingredients.
And what's an Italian food event without PIZZA! These guys were working the ovens like crazy.  It was a very popular booth.
I was even brave and tried Primo Vino's tripe soup.  I know my Italian Grammie LOVES tripe but I never cared for the texture or taste.  I found that I still don't like the texture, but the taste was delicious.

For the first time ever there was a tie in the top food category.  La Dolce Vita  tied with Mia Bella for best food of the event! La Dolce Vita's vegan friendly pasta was fresh tasting and would be a great dish to take on a picnic.

Terry Tarantino, owner
Their Mediterranean younger sister  La Strada was also represented by a wild mushroom arancini with red pepper coulis, truffle oil and porcini dust. Yum!

The other winning dish was from Mia Bella. It was pasta with a lobster sauce that contained peas and prosciutto.  It was luscious and decadent!

And we had more food:
Luciano's crew

breaded chicken cutlet and pasta

mushroom ravioli with osso bucco sauce

short ribs, polenta and lemon garlic greens
And wine:

One of the restaurants that I was most looking forward also ended up being one of the last ones we tasted.  It was worth the wait!  La Campanga is a unique family run restaurant in Westlake.  The restaurant has very limited choices because they do not actually have a traditional menu, but the food is seasonal, authentic and fabulous!  The Campagna sisters were featured at the Garlic Festival (see my blog here) and I couldn't wait to see what magic they were whipping up for the Taste.  They made braciole with truffled polenta.  The polenta truly was magical!  The truffle paired with the creamy polenta was addictive. The best ever!

Carmella and Marie

Carmella, Marie, cousin Dave, and brother Michael
Last but not least was the dessert room.  Unfortunately, most people had beat us to it so the pickings were slim.  Thankfully the dessert winners Mama Roberto's had plenty of cannoli.  I had not one, but two!  It was fantastic and huge!  It contains a creamy mixture of ricotta and whipped cream mixed with maraschino cherries, chocolate and almonds.  
We also managed to score the last cannoli from Presti's, baklava and Baci candy.  They also had an espresso machine serving up coffee.  This was the only long line I had to stand in all day.

In addition to the fantastic food and wine, there was also musical entertainment and local celebrities including legendary Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, Judge Dick Ambrose,  former Cavs coach Mike Fratello and Bob Serpentini showing their support for this worthwhile cause.
Sam Rutigliano
Afterwards we paid a visit to Holy Rosary

And then stopped in to see Nido Italia.  They served up some super hot stuffed peppers at the Taste that were delicious.  We wanted to end our night on their beautiful patio.  
Angelo, owner
Awesome patio!
I'm so glad we took a chance at went to the Taste of Little Italy!   We knew it had to be good and we weren't disappointed.  In fact, it was so much better than we ever imaged. We will definitely be back next year!

So I think I have a problem.  I just might be addicted to the NEO Food Tours !  I've kept it hidden, not wanting to admit that I have...