Imagine the crowds if the best Italian restaurant in your town was open just two days per year. That should help paint a picture of the fervor — and appetites — that Elmirans brought to the grounds of St. Anthony Church Sept. 9-10.
St. Anthony has hosted a highly successful bazaar for the past half-century, and St. Patrick has joined in operating the event since the two parishes were clustered in 1994. This year’s festivities included such highlights as prize drawings, raffles and other games of chance. Among the additional offerings were a “garden tent” with plants and homemade objects for sale, as well as various children’s games such as the rubber ducky booth.
And there was food. Boy, was there food!
For example, organizers of the cake booth had asked that 50 cakes be baked to honor the bazaar’s 50th year. Yet Therese DeSanto noted that fellow volunteers from her parish’s Sacred Heart Ladies group produced an impressive total of 122.
“That didn’t even include the homemade cakes that other parishioners contributed,” said DeSanto, who assisted Patricia Beemer with the cake-booth operation.
The cakes were only a slice of the overall menu. Jim Pirozzolo, a longtime bazaar executive-committee member, noted that the cooking crew prepared pasta fazzouli, eggplant parmigiana, 850 pounds of sausage, 1,000 meatballs and — of course — pasta and sauce. In fact, customer demand ran so high that an additional batch of sauce was whipped up on Sunday morning.
In DeSanto’s opinion, this strong attention to cuisine is what puts the St. Anthony/St. Patrick bazaar in a class of it own.
“It is homemade. The cooking crew goes in there a week before, and cooks the sausage and makes the eggplant from scratch and pasta fazzouli from scratch,” she said, adding that “I could go to other festivals and get Italian sausage, but not as good as ours. And the portion isn’t as big as ours.”
Among the bazaar’s other menu items were brujole — vegetable-filled veal roles — as well as tomatoes laced with hot peppers.
“I was looking for a slice of Italian bread to cool my mouth down,” DeSanto said with a laugh.
Pizza fritta — deep-fried dough — was perhaps the biggest hit of all.
“I don’t know how many pounds we went through,” said Marty Whitford, who served as this year’s bazaar chairperson. “We run out of it every single year,” Pirozzolo added.
Pirozzolo estimated that the bazaar’s two-day attendance was 5,000 for the golden-anniversary event.
“You look out there, you can’t even see the streets,” he said.
He and Whitford were impressed that the turnout was so strong despite rain on Saturday and cool conditions on Sunday. By and large, the bazaar has had good success with weather in its traditional time slot of the weekend after Labor Day.
“We’ve really lucked out,” Whitford said.
In terms of revenue, Pirozzolo said the bazaar has “done very well down through the years.”
“It’s probably one of the most popular festivals that this area has,” Whitford added.
DeSanto went a step further, saying, “Personally, I do think it’s the most popular festival in the city.” She noted that along with the attractions, the bazaar is a great social venue for Elmirans.
“They come to visit, they stay and talk — especially the old-timers,” she said.
Pirozzolo said the bazaar has largely maintained its basic format over the years.
“That’s the beauty of it. It hasn’t changed, and I think that’s what people like,” he said.
Whitford also attributed the bazaar’s longevity to the faithfulness of volunteers.
“A lot of hard work goes into it,” he said. “It’s a thing you plan for about 10 months, it’s not just something you show up to. Everybody knows they have a job, and they just go with it.”
Whitford has been a bazaar volunteer for more than 20 years. He said that “the core of the people that put this on have been there a long time,” though he expressed the need for younger workers to get on board to ensure future success.
Whitford attended the bazaar as a child, and DeSanto’s affiliation goes back to the 1970s. Meanwhile, Pirozzolo noted that he and his wife, Blanche, have participated since they got married 46 years ago, attending every one “except for one year when I was in the hospital. I don’t think Blanche has missed any.”
Pirozzolo cheerfully acknowledged that he puts in a lot of time on bazaar preparation all year long.
“And I love it. It’s a lot of fun, it’s not work,” he said.