If you're heading to the 33rd Annual Taste of Melrose in search of mass-produced meals and the same old chain restaurant fare, then you can "fuggeddabout it!" That's because old family recipes and home cooked ethnic specialties reign supreme on 25th Avenue in the Village of Melrose Park.
The highly touted "taste" takes place beginning on Friday, August 29th and runs through Sunday, August 31st and features everything from arracini(rice balls) and lupini beans to the sfingi (fried dough) lovingly created by the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles. Over 70 food vendors will be serving up their specialties with everything priced at 3 dollars or less.
Many of the food vendors have strong ties to Melrose Park and have been involved with this event since its inception. The Taste of Melrose began in 1981 as part of the village's centennial celebration and has been growing in size and popularity ever since. The Illinois Festival Association recently placed the Melrose Park event second only to the Taste of Chicago. This ranking doesn't particularly sit well with many food aficionados who say that the Melrose Park Taste should take top honors thanks to the breadth of menu offerings as well as the familial atmosphere that prevails throughout the three day weekend.
The purveyors of the Patty's Eggplant Parmesan stand are a perfect example of what makes this taste great. It is run by Patty (Eleuteri) Donofrio and her sister Nancy (Eleuteri) Franciose. The pair started out working the beer tent at the first taste and eventually opted to have their own stand featuring Patty's signature eggplant which they have perfected through the years. Nancy Franciose says that "initially we did not serve it as a sandwich--we sold it parmesan style with no bread. But, we've changed the way we do things many times since we started and finally came up with the perfect solution, the eggplant parmesan sandwich which is what we sell presently!"
Now an Arizona resident, Patty flies in for the event every year, Nancy takes time off from work, and the crew "basically moves in for the weekend with our stove, fridge, tables, chairs and everything else" needed to create the freshly-made sandwiches in short order. During an average year, Franciose reports that they will go through over 550 pounds of eggplant and over 230 dozen dinner rolls!
This work ethic, dedication and pride in their featured product can be found with the many food vendors who return to the Taste of Melrose every year. And, it's the food that continues to be a huge draw for the over 200,000 visitors who make it to the three day taste. The Taste of Melrose Park also features a stellar musical lineup that includes American English, R Gang, Libido Funk Circus and a host of others. The Taste of Melrose will literally close out with a bang on Sunday with a fireworks display scheduled for 10:00 pm.
While admittedly a bit biased since "it's been part of my life for the past 33 years", Nancy Franciose claims that "it's the best taste around and nothing comes close for a great time without spending a lot of money!" Stop by over the course of the Labor Day weekend and see if you agree with her assessment.
The Taste of Melrose Park is located at 1000 N. 25th Avenue in Melrose Park. It runs on Friday from 5 until 11 pm. Saturday from noon until 11 pm and Sunday from noon until 10.