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Prepare to feast in Little Italy



Published: Sun, August 5, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The address may read Mayfield Road instead of Mulberry Street, but Cleveland's Little Italy offers visitors the same type of big-city ethnic treats you'll find in The Big Apple. And the best part is that you don't have to shell out the large sums of cash needed for lodging in one of Manhattan's absurdly overpriced hotels to enjoy it.

All you'll need is a half-tank of gas.

The big news on Mayfield these days is the upcoming Holy Rosary Church Festival, a legend in this close-knit Italian-American community.

It begins with an opening procession Aug. 15, and concludes with fireworks Aug. 18.

Nicknamed "The Feast" by residents because of the amazing volume of victuals lining the street during the four-day event, the festival celebrates its 103rd year this month.

While The Feast is surely well worth checking out, Cleveland's Little Italy is a year-round carnival of good eating and one-of-a-kind shops to investigate.

And unless you really like crowds (picture the Canfield Fair compressed into one city block), my advice is to wait for things to calm down before visiting.

In the commotion of the festival, you're liable to miss out on half the fun. In fact, several of the street's most illustrious attractions actually close during the celebration.

Mama Santa: Among the many Little Italy businesses that use The Feast to take a breather is Mama Santa. A Cleveland landmark for more years than anyone can remember, Santa's serves up delicious, shockingly affordable (the costliest dish on the menu is veal parmigiana at $9) homemade Sicilian cooking.

But, as tempting as it is to order a plate of Spaghetti Di Casa (shrimp in marinara sauce over Santa's own yummy noodles) for a mere $7.25, I always gravitate towards their out-of-this-world pizza. A large, 12-slice pie sans extra toppings will only set you back $5.50, and there is no better -- or more economical -- eating within the city limits. Like most regular customers, I always order my own medium (8-slice) pie because taking half of it home to enjoy later is part of the fun.

Patrizia's: The dulcet sounds of Frank Sinatra serenade passers-by at Patrizia's Galleria, a unique emporium.

"Patrizia" is Patti Marciano who's operated the store for more than 22 years, and her Galleria's specialty is Italian gold jewelry. Importers of crystal, gold, Italian porcelain, and Murano glass (a special colored glass made on an island near Venice), Patrizia also sells vintage Communion dresses and medals, antique crucifixes, handmade "bombonere" (the doily-wrapped almond party favors popular at weddings), and is a veritable shrine to Mr. Chairman of the Board himself, Francis Albert Sinatra.

The kitsch factor at Patrizia's can be overwhelming, but Patti's dedicated customers like it that way.

Chances are you will, too.

Museum: If you want a more serious-minded glimpse into the Italian-American lifestyle, browse The Little Italy Heritage Museum for an overall history of this thriving community. There are plenty of rare photographs documenting the area's growth and changes over more than a century.

La Dolce Vita: Each Monday, patrons at La Dolce Vita enjoy live opera performed by two or three singers accompanied by a classically trained pianist with their meal (three 15-minute sets of music matched with four courses of haute Italian cuisine).

Owner-operator Terry Tarantino has been host of his wildly successful opera dinners for eight-and-a-half years, and is as proud of the "musicales" as he is the risotto, farro (a barley-based grain pasta), pesto sauce and fresh fish prepared in Vita's award-winning kitchen.

Vintage shop: Still craving kitsch after Patrizia's? Check out Christine Dinunio's Vintage Shoppe which offers an impressive array of antique and vintage clothing.

Among the eye-popping designs on display are a formal 1890 ball gown and beaded flapper dresses from the 1920s. Stepping into the Vintage Shoppe is like taking a leisurely stroll back in time when America enjoyed a more genteel way of life.

Presti's: There are two Presti's locations on Mayfield Road. One serves up light meals, a heaping assortment of Italian pastries and various fancy coffees that can be enjoyed al fresco during warm weather months at its sidewalk cafe.

The other Presti's specializes in donuts, and is only open from 6 to 10 a.m. daily.

Besides Mama Santa's pizza, no other Little Italy taste treat inspires as much fierce adoration among residents and visitors alike as Presti's donuts.

Their intoxicating aroma wafts through the air on Mayfield, and only the most strong-willed pedestrians can resist the urge to stop in and buy a dozen (or more) to go.

Corbo's: If cannolis are more your speed, don't dare pass up Corbo's Dolceria. Corbo's is the only place I know where cannoli shells (plain or chocolate-coated) are actually filled after placing an order.

Besides the fabled Ferraras of New York City, Corbo's makes the best cannolis on the planet -- and their cookies and wickedly excessive, multitiered cakes are pretty terrific, too.

Battuto: For the perfect conclusion to your day in Little Italy, be sure to stop at Battuto for dinner before heading home.

On Mayfield less than two years, Mark and Giovanna DaVerio's chic eatery is already a neighborhood institution thanks to its sumptuous four-star meals.

Although the menu changes daily, some dishes like Bucatini all'Amatriciana have proved so popular that they've become a restaurant staple. Bucatini are long, hollow, strawlike noodles that are cooked with pancetta, tomatoes, chili oil and onions.

All Battuto pastas are made on the premises, as are their exquisite desserts (dolci) and silky ice creams (gelatos).

With all the grand and glorious dining options in Cleveland's Little Italy, you don't have to attend The Holy Rosary Festival for a "feast."

Any time of year will suffice.




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