The 15th annual Festa Italiana di Vandergrift held Sunday offered up the aroma of a row of Italian restaurants on a hot summer day.
Live Italian music serenaded the nonstop waves of festival-goers twirling fettuccine with carbonara sauce in sturdy cardboard boats, drinking beer and wine, smoking cigars and vying for the patches of shade.
The signs above a row of red-and-white-striped tents read like a restaurant menu: meaty Tuscani pasta, creamy chicken Alfredo pasta, pork scalopini sandwich, polenta with sweet sausage, braciole, Italian French fries (zucchini fries), double espresso and, of course, cannoli.
Much of the heftier fare could be had for an unbeatable $5.
The only thing more popular was the Italian ice, where patrons lined up, patiently waiting for a cool treat to offset the sunny, 85-degree afternoon.
Carolynn Hepler, 59, of Allegheny Township waited in the Italian ice line -- twice. Her first foray was rewarded with an “excellent” daiquiri Italian ice. She considered a second helping as she picked up a blueberry Italian ice for her 88-year-old aunt.
Earlier in the day, Hepler and her aunt took in an outdoor Mass celebrated by Bishop Edward C. Malesic, head of the Diocese of Greensburg, and Father James Loew of St. Gertrude, Vandergrift.
“It was beautiful,” she said. That was followed up by a wood-fired, margherita pizza on the festival grounds.
As lines at the food booths ebbed and flowed, there was one line that stood alone: bagna cauda.
That pungent potion of garlic, anchovies, olive oil and other lively ingredients appeals only to the hardy and the brave.
People gathered round the bagna cauda booth for a contest -- not for consuming large quantities -- but for making the most potent version of the traditional Italian appetizer dip, which is served hot.
Of the 10 entries, Andretta Kobik of West Deer, who organizes the competition and booth, said, “Some used lobster or anchovies or tuna or sardines.”
Maybe all of the above -- there’s not telling with bagna cauda.
Kobik knows that the Italian delicacy isn’t easily available at general fairs and keeps the tradition going and the contest viable at Festa Italiana di Vandergrift.
“We have these men from Latrobe who came just to judge the bagna cauda,” she said.
Judges included the Rev. Aaron Buzzelli and the Rev. Chad Ficorilli of the Order of Saint Benedict from Saint Vincent in Latrobe. Both men served at area churches previously.
Another judge, John Fabian of Shaler, said, “I have taste buds -- that’s all you need.”
The only commodity competing with the food was friendship.
Monette Manns of Dallas, Texas, and formerly of Vandergrift, was visiting for a St. Gertrude class reunion. She knew about the festival and had to come.
Manns and friend Terri Scalzott of Allegheny Township shared a boat of linguine.
“It’s awesome,” Manns said. “Ask for extra sauce.”
Manns looked around the crowded festival grounds and said, “This is home.
“It’s social: with good sauce, good friends and great family.”