Nice day for a Pinot and a Pizza at Ettalong Beach
This weekend's Central Coast Italian Festival is the sixth incarnation of the now-staple Ettalong Beach event, taking place in the charming and unique surrounds of the art-deco style Ettalong markets, and featuring a dizzying array of Italian food, drink, music, and culture.
I wandered down on Saturday 18th April, the first of two packed days, for a taste of what the Festival had to offer. If today's crowds are anything to go by, not just Peninsula locals, but visitors from the city to the south and coast to the north seem to agree that Ettalong's Mediterranean fiesta – or, as Google translate tells me it should really be in Italian, partito – is worth making the trip for. Attendance around lunchtime today was huge, with a variety of revellers, from older couples enjoying a weekend down at the beach house to families with facepainted kids, cramming the maze-like venue to capacity.
The organisers have seemingly met the challenge of increasing popularity with gusto, too, as every free square foot of the market and restaurant complex has been given over to stalls, pop-up ovens and bars, and impromptu stages – there really is a massive amount going on, as the handy (if disorienting) programme shows.
Highlights on the edible side of things include the mouth-watering Northern Italian flatbreads and meats offered by Mondo Piadina, and the somewhat fancier but delicious condiments, olive oils, sauces from Denman outfit Pukara Estate – at $11, the lemon and lime mayonnaise I picked up was pricy, but worth every cent.
Queues around the corner for roast chestnuts and piadina
Visitors looking to relax just that little bit more on their weekend away won't be disappointed at all by the alcoholic offerings at the Festival either, with more than one stallholder offering not just the Montepulciano reds and Pinot Grigio whites you'd expect, but also unusual flavoured vodkas and the staple light, summery Italian lagers beginning to find their way into the Australian market.
Fans of beverages of the roast and ground variety have plenty to enjoy, too, with Coffee Cartel and Inca Coffee both present to serve up espresso. The sleek chrome machines dispensing coffee are a nice visual match to the equally shiny Italian motors lined up for the car show, a nice addition to the Festival allowing focus to move away from Italy's culinary heritage for a moment, and instead to the out-and-out cool of Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini's engineering aesthetics. More than a few dads were spotted eyeing the cars wistfully today.
Overall, though, more than the quantity of treats on display, it is the turnout and enthusiasm of visitors that indicate the success of an event like this. The stage usually occupied a local musician for the weekend markets was taken over by singer Nata Forte today, and a grinning crowd of mums and bubs, young couples, and older folk hung on her every word. It's great, too, to see the existing businesses in the resort taking part in the events; I grabbed a cleansing Birra Moretti from the cheerful barman at La Fiamma, ordinarily one of the highlights of Peninsula dining, and most other shops were doing a roaring trade.
Some of the goodies on sale from Jimmy G's at West Gosford
Tomorrow on Sunday 19th, all of the food and drink stalls will still be in place, and will be joined by a variety of new entertainment and music acts, including the Swingaleles, a Wollongon-based ukulele cover band, more performances from Forte, Sam Pellegrino, and George Vumbaca, a cookbook signing, the upstairs cinema's screenings of some great Italian-themed movies (don't miss Roman Holiday!), and much, much more. Amid the vibrant Renaissance-themed surrounds of the Ettalong Beach Tourist Resort, the Italian Festival has fast become a great day out in a booming spot. Either try it out tomorrow or mark your calendar for 2016.