Italian Fest Hangover

I just completed the Grand Slam – conquering the Italian Fest all four days.

Yes, I have it easy being just a one block stroll away. But that didn’t appear to stop those that needed to bike or drive their way in. Nor did the weather on Saturday, which still drew a good crowd despite the rain.

As an Italian-American who grew up on so many of the foods and traditions shared at the fest, it’s a great source of pride for me to have the Italian Festival located in North Buffalo – where I call home, and, according to the latest census, more Italian-Americans call home than any other neighborhood in Western New York.

While North Buffalo today is a great conglomeration of people – a melting pot for sure – it’s nice to have the focus on one of the main cultures that helped shape the neighborhood.

To the residents of North Buffalo: you are fine hosts. It’s not a small ask of a neighborhood to close their streets and open their doors so-to-speak to 200,000 visitors. And yet, we wrap up another successful year of showing off “il nostro quartiere e la cultura”. (Google it)

To Campi’s Pizza and Romano’s Bakery: your welcome – I made a significant contribution to your bottom line this week.

To the North Park Theatre: nice touch with showing Italian movies all week!

To The Public House of Buffalo: thank you – your new spot served as a safe haven from the rain on Saturday and your staff, atmosphere and beer list gave me 72 of reasons to come back.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier with the direction the festival keeps heading with each year seemingly bringing more and more Italian traditions and culture to the forefront. There’s so much more to our heritage than just the typical foods and songs everyone can name, and I think that’s really starting to show at the fest.

Can’t wait for next year! Ciao!

Summer on the Avenue

Lately I have been spending most of my weekends in Rochester, which left me feeling distanced from Buffalo. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Rochester; but I love Buffalo more!

So when I finally ditched the Flower City for Queen City, I decided to spend the whole day Hertel-Hopping.

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It all started on the beautiful flower adorned patio of La Tavola. They had me at their beautifully crafted cocktails, but their food was an absolute home run too. And the fact that all the patio flowers were from their next-door neighbor Floral Explorations, it was an icing on the cake.

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Once well fed, it was time for a leisurely stroll on the avenue. And strolling and shopping come hand in hand. Now, don’t stop reading already. I am not going to talk about skater dresses and accordion-pleated skirts (I mean I can..but I won’t).

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On that note, enter Second Reader Book Shop. Now if you are anything like me (translation: book nerd), this place is absolute heaven. Like the name suggests, they sell pre-owned, vintage and collectible books. Buffalo, New York City, Frank Lloyd Wright, comic books from 1950′s, vintage Mustang poster books- you name it, they got it. And I can personally vouch for their collection because some of my very prized possessions were bought here.

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With a bag of books on my arm and a warm smile on my face, I moved on to New Buffalo Graphics. Now if you have not heard of this place; you, my friend, are missing out. Designed by Michael Morgulis, it is the ultimate destination for Buffalo-themed prints and posters. And for the most part, most of his art is lovingly and proudly created at the back of this very store.

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After all the shopping, it was time to quench the thirst. And Caramici’s offered a perfectly cold beer on a beautiful patio with a public piano. I enjoyed my beer, watching the hustle and bustle on the avenue serenaded by the melody of a pianist.

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And then I decided to venture out to Buffalo’s soccer mecca, mes Que. Traditionally a Bills and Sabres fan, I do not really follow the sport. Nonetheless, watching all the soccer enthusiasts, decked in their respective jerseys, cheering for their teams was fun. And the beers only made it more interesting!

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That concluded my Hertel-Hopping. Needless to say, I had a very nice time- all within two blocks of my house.

After all we only get 99 days of summer, gotta make the most of it.

Hertel to House World Cup Fever

The arrival of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil marks a momentous time for soccer in Buffalo, and the spotlight will shine on Hertel Avenue as the epicenter of free-flowing futbol and national pride.

The international affair — which could garner even greater local attention than when the Wambach-Morgan-Solo-fueled U.S. Women’s National Team sprinted to the World Cup Final in 2011 — began at 4 p.m. Thursday with the host nation squaring off against Croatia.

Mes Que, Buffalo’s first soccer-only bar, is at the heart of the festivities; co-owner Tony Christiano and his cousin, Left Bank proprietor Mike Christiano, have devoted the last two years to growing soccer’s popularity in Buffalo by televising virtually every meaningful European and American soccer match at 1420 Hertel Ave., earning the trust and business of fans far and wide.

Because this is Mes Que’s inaugural men’s tournament, the bar has an opportunity to set the bar high for future large-scale soccer celebrations. Fortunately for the Christianos, the bar’s mantra for the tournament is nearly identical to its mission as a bar.

“We want Mes Que to be the place where all kinds of people — those from Buffalo and those visiting Buffalo — can share the game together,” Tony Christiano said in a short phone conversation.

Hello Hertel learned some of the specific plans:

  • World Cup at Mes QueMes Que will televise every World Cup match.
  • Two more televisions were added to Mes Que’s existing four inside of the restaurant.
  • A 60” TV has been stationed in the alley behind Mes Que, accessible from North Park Avenue or through the rear of the bar; that space is expected to accommodate between 300 and 400 people. Porter potties will be positioned in the alley.
  • A large TV box was mounted on top of Mes Que’s outdoor patio along Hertel, allowing passersby to catch a glimpse of — or stop briefly to watch — the matches.

Other businesses along Hertel have joined the fray, as Globe Market will air matches on its TVs, while Christiano is hopeful that Gecko’s will take part as well.

For a short time, Mes Que hoped to stream the U.S. games inside North Park Theatre, but when Christiano reached out to FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, representatives explained that such an approach would violate policy.

Mes Que has worked with local soccer supporter groups — from the Buffalo chapter of the American Outlaws to the Buffalo Soccer Council, a group of active, futbol enablers — to drum up interest and assure a raucous-yet-safe environment.

If you’re one of the folks whose soccer appetite is never satiated, the Buffalo chapter of the American Outlaws will host the Sunday Soccer Series at North Park Theatre, where soccer-focused films and documentaries will be shown inside the recently refurbished cinema.

“Victory,” “The Year My Parents Went to Brazil,” “Next Goal Wins” (the story of American Samoa) and a Bob Bradley documentary are just a few of the films that will roll on all Sundays from now through July 13 — excluding July 6, which is Independence Day Weekend.

Although the United States’ first match isn’t until 6 p.m. Monday against Ghana, prepare for soccer mania along Hertel between North Park and Norwalk. Even if you’re not a soccer fanatic, the chance to witness 32 prideful countries — as big as Brazil and as small as Uruguay — vie for the same goal can be a magical experience. And it’s just down the road.

Editorial Note: I can’t and won’t take any credit for this post. Admittedly, I know little about soccer and less about “futbol” – but in recognizing and appreciating its significance in the world of sports, I reached out to a local expert to provide this great Hertel insight.

From Farm to Hertel

It’s finally happening. A step towards environmental responsibility. A nod of support to our local growers. Another win for Hertel.

The North Buffalo Farmers Market will open for the 2014 season on Thursday, June 19, from 3 – 7 pm. It will be located at Holy Spirit Church on Hertel near Delaware.

I’m sure most of you need not be sold on the benefits the come along with supporting local farmers markets, but I’ll reinforce them:

  • Choosing to eat locally is more than a trend, it is a healthy way of life.
  • Eating local means you have access to nutritional, fresh foods.
  • Eating local means you know the farmer that has produced your food.
  • Eating local is being environmentally responsible as you are choosing to eat without imposing a large carbon footprint.
  • Eating local is economically responsible, as the dollars you spend on food are kept in circulation within our local community.

The market is set to run on Thursdays through November 6, but will take the week of July 17 off so volunteers and their families can attend the annual North Buffalo Italian Festival. (I’m sure if the farmers could grow cannoli or zeppole they’d stay open, but without that, no chance.)

A Grand Opening Celebration is planned for July with music and activities when more vendors will be available and fresh produce is in full season. Food trucks are being invited, and vendors are always welcome to apply.

It was no easy feat to get this market off the ground. Securing a location proved to be much more than “let’s do it here” as most of the 15+ sites that were scouted were unavailable. This made securing growers difficult too, as it’s already late in the season. But now we have the foundation to start building what could be a large, annual marketplace. If we show some mighty Buffalove to the few who can join us this year, then we will reap the benefits next year and beyond!

Kudos to Patricia DiFrancesco Banning, Board Member of NorthBuffalo.org and Market Manager, for her hard work and diligence to make this happen. Without her, we’d still be aimlessly saying “Hey, Hertel should get a farmers market.”

Shop Local – Support Farmers – Eat Well – Celebrate Community

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