They call it "The Best Feast in the East" -- Glen Cove's venerable Feast of St. Rocco draws more than 50,000 people during its six-day run, which starts Tuesday night.
The festival hangs its reputation on authenticity. Yes, there are midway rides and games, but at St. Rocco's, it's all about the food -- pasta dishes, eggplant, meatballs -- all homemade by parishioners from Italian recipes that have been passed down for generations. The parish, celebrating its 75th anniversary, also injects a strong religious tradition into the festivities. Here are three reasons why this slice of old-world Italy is not to be missed.
1. THE FOOD
At St. Rocco's, people just don't eat, they dine together. Away from the rides and the crowds, the church turns its Parish Center into a restaurant called the Pasta Plus Pavilion, where food is served buffet style ($5-$8 per dish) in an air-conditioned environment. Stuffed shells, cavatelli with broccoli rabe, pasta fagiola plus chicken Parmesan and two styles of eggplant are served and prepared by "the nonnas" of the community.
"We put a lot of love into our food and it shows in the taste," says chairman Reggie Spinello, 59, of Glen Cove.
The kitchen is run by retired restaurateur Arturo Gomes, who offers a different special every night as well as penne or spaghetti prepared four different ways. "I get my tomatoes directly from Italy. They are the top of the line," says Gomes, 58, of Glen Cove. "We don't cut corners, we give people the best."
One specialty is tripe (cow's stomach), which is made with onions, celery, garlic, pancetta, beans and potatoes. The drink of choice features fresh peaches peeled by hand and cut up into the red vino.
"We sell out every year," says Spinello. "These are the things people go nuts for."
Food at the Pavillion is popular enough that there's a takeout booth for those on the go.
2. THE DESSERT
After dinner, patrons tend to move to the Pastry Plus Pavilion to relax on the grass under a tent and listen to live music while waitresses serve pastries and coffee.
There are cannoli, sfogliatelli, napoleons and éclairs ($3.50-$4.50 each) available as singers Don Felice and Gino DiNapoli serenade the crowd. For those who love to indulge, Belgian waffles topped with ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream ($7.50) is a favorite, as is St. Rocco's famous cappuccino float.
"Drinking an espresso under the lights listening to Italian music makes you feel like you are in another world," says Spinello.
3. THE PROCESSION
St. Rocco is the patron saint of the sick. After Sunday's 10 a.m. mass, a procession of the St. Rocco statue moves through the neighborhood with an Italian marching band. People pin money and jewelry on the statue's cape making a wish they hope will come true.
"For the homebound it's St. Rocco coming to visit them at their home," says Father Elias Carr, St. Rocco's pastor. "It brings tears to people's eyes."
WHEN | WHERE 6-11 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 3-11 p.m. Saturday and 3-10 p.m. Sunday, Third Street and St. Rocco Place, Glen Cove. Fireworks at dusk on Friday.
INFO 516-676-2482, stroccoglencove.com