Best community feed in Las Vegas is the annual San Gennaro Feast, which continues today for 12 hours outside the Silverton Casino.
There’s so much good food and so many cooks that you can catch a scent of grilled meat and onions before you even hit Blue Diamond.
Before you reach the parking lots, that fragrance of meatballs (giant) and grilled peppers (huge heaps) will send you straight to the feast for cheap eats.
There are old favorites (lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs) and newer specialties (Sicilian rice balls, toasted cheese ravioli).
There’s plenty of meat, from authentic Italian (chicken “parm”/parmesan) to authentic Hungarian (chicken paprikash with “nokedli” or homemade noodles).
There’s Jamaican jerk chicken, Mexican tacos, Italian meatball sandwiches, Spanish polenta fries, lots of lasagna, Hungarian beef goulash and pork “gypsy steak.”
Philly cheesesteak seemed especially popular yesterday, and Mike Daprila was grilling ground meat, heaping it on an open-faced bun, slathering it with grilled onions and peppers, then melted cheese.
It was a feast in itself.
Daprila is typical of many of the more than 200 serving food at Sen Gennaro.
He’s been cooking at the feast for 28 years. The San Gennaro Feast has been in Las Vegas for 31 years.
Daprila, like many at the feast, doesn’t have a restaurant either.
So much of the food available should be put out there every day for Las Vegans to savor.
Sure, you can get French crepes with fruit and whipped cream on The Strip, but can you eat it outdoors? while moving? while your kids get their faces painted?
Some food is more carnival style, like the foot-long corn dogs and “onion blossoms” (big, deep-fried onion, split open for sharing, definitely sharing). Or the funnel cake, “chimney” cake, and — a favorite carny food — fried dough, dusted with icing sugar.
There are healthier choices, such as strawberry-banana kebabs for $5, and the largest Greek salad we’ve ever seen (it was served from a stainless steel bowl that only is used in commercial kitchens).
Other specialties are food on steroids, such as the big, fat shrimp. (Asked where they were from, the cook, said, “The ocean.” Asked which ocean, he said, “They’re farm-raised, in the ocean.”)
Or the giant turkey legs. They’re advertised as “giant” and they are giant, on a grill, for $8. Perfect for a medieval feast. (Asked where they were from, the cook replied, “A turkey farm, I guess.”)
That kind of humor permeates a community festival, where families and many children and unconnected people gather under a large, open-air tent for a shared, cheap meal.
Everyone trades tips on their favorite food booth (that funnel cake is better; there’s more ice at that shaved ice booth). They watch each other’s children when one wants something the others aren’t having. They’re kind to people in wheelchairs who found it difficult to manoeuvre under the tent.
Kids giggle over shaved ice (really popular in yesterday’s scorching heat), served in big cones and doused in dozens of flavors from traditional to bubble gum, cotton candy and “tiger’s blood.”
And everyone goes straight for homemade lemonade in this weather.
Two young women, who don’t have a store outside, were doing a roaring business yesterday, offering fresh-squeezed lemonade for only $3 with $1 refills. We returned again and again, alternating water and lemonade to stay hydrated.
Bottles of water from an ice-water tub are $1 from the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and help support wounded vets and their families.
Alcoholic drinks are available at stands by the stage, where there’s live entertainment through the day and night.
There are plenty of rides, an old-fashioned carny midway (where barkers swear only you can win the giant, stuffed panda), pony rides from a real Las Vegas pony ranch, and a petting zoo with sheep and other baby animals to coo over.
There’s even a mechanical bull, at $5 a ride.
Support local entrepreneurs (ask artist Dee Conti how she makes those elaborate, fake pumpkins for Hallowe’en); support local cooks (hand-made fries made on-the-spot are to die for); and support local businesses giving Las Vegas that sense of community some complain doesn’t exist here.
More: San Gennaro Feast, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (cooler to go at night); Silverton Casino, 3333 Blue Diamond Rd.
More details, history of the feast and coupons at sangennarofeast.com.