Another Nashville institution will take on an ethnic flavor this weekend when the Amerigo Vespucci Society drapes Centennial Park in red, white and green for the first annual Sausage & Bocce Festival in the Park this Sunday, July 17. The local group, founded a couple of years ago, will soon join the ranks of the Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA), the Italian American heritage society that celebrates its centennial this year.
Patti Nelson, who serves as spokeswoman for the group and the event, is not Italian by birth or marriage, but after graduating high school in Nashville, she went to study in Italy and wound up staying for 20 years. Now living in Nashville, she works in the medical field and teaches Italian part-time. "You don't have to be Italian to join," she says. "We also have associate members, people who have lived in Italy, travel frequently to Italy, or who just love all things Italian."
The Amerigo Vespucci Society currently has more than 50 members and is aiming for 100 in order to join OSIA. Its most well-known special event is the Wine Making Festival, held every fall for the last six years in Sylvan Park. It meets formally once monthly, concluding each gathering with a potluck meal that would likely answer a question I'm frequently asked: "Where is the best Italian food in Nashville?"
The Sausage and Bocce Festival will include bocce demonstrations, games, live music (who doesn't love accordion?) and, of course, food, including products from Italian bread and pastry maker Corrado Savarino and award-winning chef Anna Lia Notardonato, owner of Tutto Bene Biscotti. The event takes place noon to 5 p.m., and admission is free. For more information, contact Patti Nelson at 885-9001 or Chuck Cinelli at 573-2319.
The Amerigo Vespucci Society also maintains a website, www.ItaliansinNashville.com, which offers more information on the local chapter and the OSIA, details of membership, events, recommended Italian films, Italian lessons, recipes and a directory of Italian-owned businesses.
Don't worry, he'll be back
Speaking of Corrado Savarino, the native Italian, former Brooklynite and New York Mets fan has closed his shop, Savarino Italian Pastry, in the Wal-Mart Shopping Center at Old Hickory Boulevard and Nolensville Road. Unable to come to terms on a new lease, he ceased retail operations on June 30 and is now concentrating on growing his wholesale business out of a building he recently purchased. His plans are to reenter the commercial arena with a new concept in a new location in the near future.
Savarino Italian Pastry's doors are closing, but within the next several weeks, partners Ernesto Schiratti and Jim Africano hope to open the doors of The Italian Market. Located at 411 51st Ave. N., behind the gold-domed bank building at 51st and Charlotte, the deli, grocery and café is just a few blocks from Schiratti's Sylvan Park home, where the wine-making festival has been held every fall. Schiratti and Africano met through the Amerigo Vespucci Society and began talking several months ago about where they'd get some of the imported goods that Savarino had been carrying. The conversations eventually led to the conclusion that they should open their own shop. The landlord of the small one-story building had attended several wine-making festivals, so he was enthusiastic about the idea; a deal was struck and renovation began.
Schiratti, who is from a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Africano, who is from Chicago, are currently researching vendors and product lines. They plan to carry imported jarred and canned goodsincluding Italian tomatoes. "People here think tomatoes are tomatoes, and that there's no difference," says Schiratti. "Fuggedaboudit. They don't know nuttin'!" The store will also sell imported cookies and other sweets, fresh Italian deli meats and cheeses, all the makings for antipasto plates, and Italian breadsbaked by Corrado Savarino. They have an espresso maker and will make sandwiches to order.