Tasting The Old Country: Chicago's Italian Block Party
There are roughly half a million Italians living in Chicago, according to The Encyclopedia of Chicago, but for at least one weekend of the year, that population may seem to grow a bit. You see, Chicago is very inclusive in its parties--everyone in Chicago is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, for example. That's why it's probably safe to say that anyone who is anywhere Oakley Avenue on Father's Day weekend will begin to feel at least a little bit Italian. That's the weekend when this quiet little traditional Italian neighborhood in the heart of the city hosts the Oakley Fest Pasta Vino, a huge Italian block party that celebrates the food and culture of Italy.
The Oakley Fest Pasta Vino celebrates the heritage of a Lower West Side neighborhood that started out as a blue-collar Italian neighborhood in the Roaring Twenties. For three days, the whole area looks like a Roman villa, with statues decorating the street, which is filled with Venetian-costumed performers and vendors selling fine Italian merchandise. The area comes alive with three stages of headline entertainment (with past performers including the Jersey Boys and the Drifters), not to mention Italian folk musicians and dancers, and performances from Venetian Carnivale troupers. There are Children's activities, cultural exhibits and even a special Father's Day mass on Sunday.
As the name suggests, the festival centers around food and wine. The multitude of fine restaurants in this "Little Tuscany" area of Chicago are well represented at this block party, in fact, some of them have booths set up right in front of their own storefronts, so it will be easy to find them when you come back to taste their wares again (and you will). Chicago has a reputation for great Italian food, and this festival brings together some of the best culinary artisans in the area to show off their skills, featuring such local institutions as Il Vicinato's, Ignotz, Bacchanalia, Miceli's Deli, and La Fontanella. Some of the fine traditional Italian dishes you can taste, often made from generations-old family recipes, include osso buco, sausage and peppers, pastas, desserts and more. There is also more modern fare like Italian beef sandwiches and pizza. If you happen to like pizza, there is nowhere else in the world you're going to want to be on this weekend--Chicago has the best and this festival has some of the best that Chicago has to offer. Top it off with a glass of fine wine and a little classic Italian ice and you will feel like you just dined in Tuscany.
The block party, which has been produced by Ron Onesti of Onesti Entertainment for over 25 years, is generally held on Father's Day Weekend, as it is this year, and it has actually become a Father's Day tradition for many. The exact days of the festival this year are June 16-18, 2017 and even with the 25,000 expected attendees, there is ample parking available on Western Ave., Blue Island Ave. and Oakley. If you're looking for good, wholesome family entertainment, great food and a memory that will last a lifetime, the Oakley Fest Pasta Vino is definitely worth a visit, whether you're Italian or just pretending for a day.