It’s that time of year again!
The 18th Avenue Festival returns on Aug. 18 and will continue for 11 consecutive nights filled with food, games and culture, attracting thousands to Brooklyn’s little slice of Italy: Bensonhurst.
The festival — also known as the Feast of Santa Rosalia, or simply “the feast” — takes over a stretch of 18th Avenue co-named Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, from 68th Street to Bay Ridge Parkway at the end of each August (except in 2020 when organizers were forced to take a pandemic-related pause).
The feast’s patron Saint Rosalia is known to have miraculously dispelled a plague from Sicily — a piece of trivia one of the event’s organizers said has special meaning as the city continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and amid the emergence of monkeypox in New York City.
“Santa Rosalia was known for curing the plague in Sicily,” said Angelo Timoneri, an organizer of the feast. “I think these days it has a very special meaning because we are praying to get rid of COVID-19 in the community.”
One of the feast’s biggest attractions is its live performances, for which organizers try to up the caliber every year. To close out this year’s feast, Sicilian musical artist Angelo Venuto will perform with his family on Aug. 28.
“We have some good singers that are coming, especially on the 28th we have Angelo Venuto, they’re always good,” Timoneri said. “We keep on doing it better and better every year. Music is one of the main attractions.”
Only one of the 11 nights doesn’t have live music scheduled. Instead that night, Timoneri said, a DJ will get the party started.
And of course, the celebration of Italian-American heritage will include classics like zeppoles, deep fried Oreos and sausage and pepper subs available for purchase — but there is an additional sweet treat on the menu this year as one of the avenue’s bakeries will set up shop outside of its storefront for the 11-night festival. The event’s beloved zeppole stands are also introducing rainbow cookies to their menus this go-around.
“We’re really excited about the fried rainbow cookies,” Timoneri said.
In addition to Italian cuisine, food from all over the world will be available to purchase on any one of the feast’s many nights.
Kids can also be excited about the rides coming to the neighborhood for the span of the festival: a kiddie airplane ride, bouncy houses and a floating apple ride — to name a few.
The last night of the festival will feature a procession down the avenue, and everyone is invited to join, Timoreni told Brooklyn Paper — and it will conclude with food and refreshments at Bensonhurst’s own Villabate Alba.
Timoneri said he’s helped organize the feast for six years and is one of a six-man militia that makes the event possible each year as volunteers. But, the Bensonhurst native noted he’s been making memories at the feast for his entire life.
“I do this so my kids could have the same experience I had at the feast when I was a kid,” Timoneri said, adding that he’s honored to have the opportunity to help his kids make those same fond memories.
He also hopes his children might take the reins from him someday.
“Maybe one day they’ll take it over and do the same for their kids,” he said.
This year’s grand marshals are Louis Coluccio, owner of ALC Italian Grocery in Bay Ridge and co-president of the Third Avenue Merchants Association, and Rosella Rago, host of the web series “Cooking with Nonna,” where she cooks with a different Italian nonna every show.
The Feast of Santa Rosalia is expected to bring people from all over the city and even further, with some of the event’s Facebook followers sharing that they are coming from as far as New Jersey.
“We have a big following on Facebook and everyone is thrilled about the feast,” Timoneri said. “We have people coming from all over.”