What you’ll find there: an onslaught of things that are generally not Italian. There are more than twenty fried Oreo vendors over the course of the eight-block stretch. Last time I checked, no one was frying Oreos during the Feast of the Seven Fishes held on Christmas Eve. I don’t think Italy is a hot spot for hot dogs, peace pipes, or shirts that says KILL ME, MY HUSBAND’S A GUIDO, either.
Sideshows have moved from Coney Island to Mulberry Street with giant advertisements for the Headless Woman and the Man-Eating Snake. It added to the experience, I think, to see a line of about 50 people waiting to see a two-headed cow right next to a line of about 50 people waiting to get a Best In The World Philly Cheesesteak.
This festival is advertised as an authentic experience when really, it is filled with what seems like a hundred vendors yelling at you to buy their sausage and peppers. Everywhere you turn there’s someone trying to scam you into winning a giant Rastafarian banana—which, by the way, is how my boyfriend and his roommate were suckered into losing $157 dollars last year—and it can start to make you feel like a bit of a tourist.
There are moments of redemption to be found, though, amongst the pot-bellied hecklers of balloon-and-dart games. I had some really funky pickles from the Pickle Me Pete cart: one tasted like feety garbage (the horseradish), one made me re-think my existence in the aftermath (the ridiculously spicy), and one was supremely brined and garlicky (the half-sour).
There is also the teaming up of The Breslin, The Spotted Pig, and The John Dory restaurants into one super-vendor. I had the pork tonata, which was worth the whole trip. The Village Voice articulates the deliciousness in their account of the new ways of the festival.
All in all, as a born-and-raised Italian American, I did not feel any more connected to my heritage than when I see someone cooking spaghetti. In fact, I may have more of a relationship with the pasta. I did, however, get hours of free entertainment. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a walk-through. You’re likely to see people that you wouldn’t ordinarily on the streets of Lower Manhattan. It can be nice to take a break from the crazy and revel in the grossness of what could possibly be in the falafel that makes it Sicilian. For next year’s Festival agenda, I would like to offer my recommendation of a Snookie butter sculpture, just to take distasteful to a whole new level.