This is a tourist area, so there are lots of events year-round designed to draw in the Californians. But this past weekend was an event that always seems more oriented towards the locals. Always held the weekend of the Columbus Day holiday, the Reno Italian Festival has long been a favorite of ours.
Virginia Street is closed to cars from the Reno Arch to Circus Circus - a big, free street fair. The crowd is an easy-going, family-centered one - lots of dogs and kids, no one smoking outside (all the smokers are inside the casinos, I guess), everyone enjoying our beautiful fall weather.
There are a couple of live-music stages, with acts ranging from accordion bands to Italian crooners; booths selling gelato, wine and Bellini's, artichoke hearts and cheesy garlic bread; street entertainers that range from stilt walkers to living statues, jugglers and balloon-twisters.
New this year was a Farmers Market and Crafts area in the park where the train tracks used to be, before the covered train trench made the downtown much more pedestrian- and traffic-friendly.
We just missed the semi-finals of the boccie ball tournament, and didn't feel like waiting around to see the final round. So we wandered back through the crowd to the other end of the fair, arriving just in time for another round of the grape-stomping contest.
The grape-stompers compete as eight teams of two - a bare-footed stomper plus a mucker that scrapes the juice towards the drain spigot and into a jug. After three-minute rounds, the team with the most juice by weight wins that round (it looks like Topsy the Clown has been stomping grapes too).
A woman came up and asked Aries if he'd like to be her mucker in the next round. He said no - a good thing, because I really like the shirt he was wearing, and grape juice can leave such a nasty stain.
But the best part of the Italian Fest is the Sauce Contest. After the judges are through tasting, anyone can buy a bowl of thick spaghetti noodles (with spoon-it-yourself cheese) for $1. You take your bowl around to each of the 25-30 sauce booths lining both sides of the street, and they'll ladle on a bit. Then you stand there in the middle of the street with your bowl and fork, slurping up one sauce after another. I'll usually eat just the sauce off the top of the noodles, and then go on to the next. Most places will also put their sauce on a small slice of Italian bread, so you can taste it apart from the strange soup that develops in the bottom of your bowl. Halfway through, I was overwhelmed by all the tomato sauces, so searched out only the booths that had white or pesto sauces. The Casale family pesto was my pick; Aries goes more for the tomato and hot Italian sausage ones.