Employees of the family-owned Gia & Nat’s Gnocci man a booth at the Taste of Melrose Park’s last day on Sept. 4. Below, Cynthia Maiello-Gluecklich, the executive director of the Melrose Park Library, has been coming to the annual event since it first started 35 years ago. | Shanel Romain/Village Free Press
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 12:57 p.m.
Cynthia Maiello-Gluecklich has been visiting the annual Taste of Melrose Park since she was a child. Last weekend, the Melrose Park native joined thousands of others at the 35th anniversary of the annual event, which was held within and around the Melrose Park Civic Center, 1000 25th Ave.
The three-day fest attracted numerous local restaurants like Gia & Nat’s Gnocci and the River Forest chocolatier Donna Fantetti-Slepicka (whose tent lured fest-goers with the delectable aroma of chocolate-covered bacon), and coincided with HispanoFest, billed as the largest Hispanic festival in the western suburbs.
In addition to music and food, a range of local businesses and organizations pitched tents — they included Westlake Hospital, Winston Plaza shopping center and the Melrose Park Public Library, of which Maiello-Gluecklich is executive director. A large Ferris wheel erected just across the street from the Civic Center loomed high above the revelry.
The sheer magnitude of this year’s fest, Maiello-Gluecklich said, is a far cry from the event’s beginnings.
__ More below the photo __
Attendance at the Taste of Melrose Park may have gotten up to 100,000, guessed Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, pictured below left. | Shanel Romain/Village Free Press
“In the very first few years, there were no restaurants,” she said. “It was always large, but the vendors have changed. It’s always been fun. When I was younger, people were making their family recipes and bringing them out. And as kids we could hang out with our friends. You felt like you were so cool, because you were hanging out by yourself.”
Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico said he’d guess that the weekened event would attract close to 100,000 people, particularly considering the picturesque weather.
“In the beginning, most of the booths, a lot of them, were (occupied) by families,” Serpico recalled. “This all started when, 35 years ago, a few members of the village got together and decided to do an event.”
Over the years, that small event has evolved into what the longtime mayor called a smaller and less congested Taste of Chicago. He said a few key factors keep people coming back. For one, he said, the fest is free to enter. There’s no admission charge. And vendors can’t charge more than $3.00 for food.
Natalie Anzaldi, 28, said her family has been serving food at the Taste since she was 15 years old. The Melrose Park-based Gia & Nat’s Gnocci sells pasta from the family’s home.
“We just do this out of our kitchen,” Anzaldi said. “People come up and ask for pasta. We ask if they want red sauce or no red sauce; cheese or no cheese. That’s it.”
It’s a simple tradition that matches the Fest’s venerability, which Anzaldi said her family considers something like an annual sojourn.
For many attendees, the Fest provides an opportunity to return to their past.
“There’s good Italian food and you see people you went to high school and grammar school with,” said Annette Impallaria, who moved out Melrose Park some time ago and manned the booth, co-sponsored by Melrose Park Village Clerk Mary Ann Paolantonio, where fest-goers could buy Fantetti-Slepicka’s chocolate-covered bacon.
“It’s fun,” said Impallaria. VFP
CORRECTION: This article has since been updated to correct for name confusion. Annette Impallaria was interviewed, not Clerk Mary Ann Paolantonio. VFP regrets the error.
Below left, Miss Teen Melrose Park Yajara Vera, Miss Berwyn Latina Vanessa Arroyo, Miss Illinois Latina Priscilla Perez, Miss Teen Illinois Latina Verenice Ruiz and Miss Melrose Park Latina Guadalupe Arreola. Donna Fantetti-Slepicka, of River Forest Chocolates, hands out her famous chocolate-covered bacon (below fourth from left).