Capri Scarcelli | A&E Editor
Aug. 25, 2022
The city of Pittsburgh regularly celebrates and recognizes its cultural diversity through various festivities and events, and is not shy to support the love of its Italian-American roots.
From Aug. 18-21, families and friends gathered at the 20th rendition of Bloomfield’s Little Italy Days, immersing in the rich heritage of Pittsburgh’s historically Italian culture — including authentic gnocchi, cannoli, gelato, jewelry, bocce tournaments and more.
Mia Madre Trattoria in Avalon is run by the Hawkins family as a way to keep the Italian tradition alive and well.
“My son, my daughter, my wife, my niece[…]we all work at the restaurant together full time, and [this festival] gives us a little break from our usual schedule to celebrate our heritage,” Alex Hawkins said.
Open since 2009, Alex said that the family restaurant has set up a booth at Little Italy Days each year since its opening.
“We’ve been around forever, and we’ll keep coming too,” Alex said.
Elise Hawkins, daughter of Alex Hawkins and owner of Isabella’s Holi Cannoli, was inspired to start her own business apart from helping at her family’s restaurant. When she lost her own daughter in 2018, she decided to dedicate her career to her.
“She had a little girl that passed away, and her name was Isabella, so we started this company in honor of her,” Alex said. “And now she has her own food truck that will be coming out [next week], and Isabella’s Holi Cannolis will be all around Allegheny County and in the city of Pittsburgh.”
According to Elise Hawkins, she was invited to be a vendor in Bloomfield’s Little Italy Days, and will also appear in Butler for their Italian festival on Aug. 26.
“Whether other festivals or food truck events, anywhere they’ll have us we’ll be,” Elise said.
Michael Tambellini’s Event Catering celebrated its 20th year of Little Italy Days, setting up shop every year the festival has run in the Pittsburgh area. Tambellini said that the company is “just a block away” from where the event took place on Liberty Ave.
He also said that his company caters the Vintage Fair, Grand Prix, local farmers markets and other various social events. Regular customers have enjoyed Tambellini’s chicken parmesan, stuffed shells, penne, meatball hoagies and more.
“Being Italian and celebrating the Italian heritage is something that everyone looks forward to,” Tambellini said. “This is one of the biggest events in Pittsburgh besides the Steelers game.”
Joey Spadaro is a sophomore information systems major at Duquesne. He and his Alpha Phi Delta brothers, a historically Italian social fraternity, talked to multiple vendors at Little Italy Days — enjoying the food, music and good memories. Spadaro said, his favorites were Calinete’s pizza and “Italian” egg rolls, which he considered a “modern twist on classic Italian food.”
“This was my first time there, and I think since my family is Italian and a bunch of my friends are too, we wanted to check it out to support the culture,” Spadaro said. “I think more Duquesne students should head [to the festival] next year, too.”
Anthony Marino, a 2005 Duquesne University alumnus, gathers with fellow Duquesne graduates Robert Salvatore, Adam Marino, Anthony Rocco and John Barnallini each summer for the Little Italy Days’ bocce tournament.
Consisting of 18 teams, Little Italy Days has welcomed bocce leagues for the past 10 years. Anthony said that he and his friends are “super fortunate” to be leaders of their league for seven years in a row.
“We got a great bunch of guys here that come out, [and we] got teams that come from Belle Vernon all the way to Wheeling, West Virginia,” Anthony said. “If you look around, we get a good crowd. Everyone loves to watch, and gets to learn the game if they don’t know it already.
“It’s like young and old. You have old school Italian guys who can teach you how to play, and you have guys in their mid-20s just learning. Kids can run around on Friday nights for open-courts. It’s all for the community.”
The bocce leagues are founded on volunteer work, and all materials are donated from local fundraisers in the community, where winning teams give back to local businesses, according to Anthony.
“This is all for the community, all for Bloomfield and all for this festival.”