Hilton Head festival celebrates all things Italian

eshaw@islandpacket.comSeptember 21, 2013 

Food lovers had eyes the size of pizza pies Saturday at the fourth annual Italian Heritage Festival on Hilton Head Island.

More than 20 cuisine tents served up everything from handmade meatballs to cannolis to Gelato to shaved ice. There was also plenty of pizza and plenty of wine.

Hosted by the Italian-American club of Hilton Head, the festival honors St. Gennaro's feast, a celebration started by Italian immigrants in New York City's to honor the patron saint of Naples.

Since bringing a similar event to Hilton Head, the Italian-American Club has seen the festival grow tremendously.

"It's getting bigger and bigger," said Joe Mule, a member of the club's board of directors and COO of Lowcountry radio station 104.9, a long-time sponsor of the festival.

This year's ticket sales are expected to exceed 5,000, up from 4,200 in 2012, according to club secretary John Pagluica.

Large crowds spent the warm day darting to and from areas of shade, sampling food, enjoying live music and partaking in other Italian-friendly activities like Bocce ball, grape stomping and a pizza-eating competition.

Anders Kennedy, 9, and younger brother Liard, 7, won the junior division of the grape stomping contest.

"It felt like running in mud," Anders said. "It was extremely squishy and freezing cold." Both boys said they would try to return next year to defend their title.

In a battle of bellies, Hilton Head Island High School took home the pizza-eating prize, scarfing down 14 slices of pizza in five minutes. The competition pitted three-man teams from area high school football teams, including Hilton Head Island High School, Hilton Head Preparatory School and Hilton Head Christian Academy. Three volunteers filled in for Bluffton High's no-show team.

Of course, no Italian festival would be complete without a strolling accordionist. Bob Wilusz of Rock Hill was more than happy to oblige, even donning a gondolier's outfit topped with a straw hat and red ribbon.

"It's a complicated instrument; not that many people can do it," said Wilusz, who has been playing since age 10. Though admittedly not Italian, Wilusz said the accordion is a common instrument in Italian music. "And I enjoy it," he said before sauntering off and starting up a new song.

Delighting in the music and the atmosphere was Lee Pandolfe, the first woman to join the Italian-American Club.

"I don't have any family down here, so they're my support system," said Pandolfe, who is from Connecticut.

"Our club has one of the best festivals," she said. "And everybody loves Italians."

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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Calendar event: Italian Heritage Festival

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