It’s hard to figure out exactly why Little Rock hasn’t more fully embraced Italian food and culture. Italy, much like Arkansas and the rest of the South, has a plethora of approachable food; distinct, vibrant cultural areas; plenty of natural beauty; and a strong sense of its own identity. And yet, Little Rock has for decades largely failed to embrace and celebrate Italy the way it has Greece or Mexico. That changed last year with the first Arkansas Italian Food and Culture Festival in North Little Rock, which attracted thousands of folks to Riverfront Park. For 2019, the festival moved across the river to the Clinton Presidential Center and expanded to three full days of events.
If there’s one thing that separates the Italian Food and Culture Festival from the rest, it’s the sheer quantity of activities it offers. The demonstration tent alone had more than two dozen offerings, with classes on pasta-making and focaccia bread to basic Italian language and even how to dress like an Italian gentleman. Vendors brought oils and vinegars, Italian arts and crafts, and kitchen supplies to sell. More than a dozen food trucks and restaurants offered their takes on Italian and Italian-American classics. A grape-stomping area brought loads of fun as people cheered on kids and adults alike to press the most juice with their feet. A bocce competition, soccer tournament and sauce contest offered bragging rights and more for the winners.
Perhaps what I was most impressed with is how much organization and support the festival has already managed to attract. Running any event is a chore, but doing one with this many individual activities and moving pieces is impossible for any one person to do. The team at the Italian Food and Culture Festival should be commended for the obvious hard work they’ve put into making this event a success.
Below you’ll find photos of the festival, which raised money to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Central Arkansas. I was able to play a very small part in the event in helping judge the gravy competition, but it truly took the work of hundreds of folks to pull this one off. Hopefully, those volunteers will be back for next year, because a festival like this has a positive impact on everyone in Little Rock.