Mushroom ravis, sauce cookers return for Italian Fest

The grape stomp is back, too

PHOTO/PROVIDED TO RN&R: More than 30 family teams of sauce cookers will compete at the 39th Great Italian Festival Oct. 9-10, 2021, in downtown Reno.

Grape stompers are preparing to crush. Sauce cookers are readying recipes. The mushroom ravioli are being plumped and pinched.

The Great Italian Festival, a longtime kick-off to fall in Northern Nevada, returns for its 39th running Oct. 9-10 outside The Row in downtown Reno, after skipping 2020 because of the pandemic.

The event will be smaller than usual, organizers said — notably without the Italian Buffet and its 50-foot hot and cold line — but many traditional attractions will be back: street food, pasta sauce cook-off and sampling, the juicy splatter of grape stomping, live music from two stages.



When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 9 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 10

Where: Outside The Row in downtown Reno

Details: This way to the ravioli


“After the last year-and-a-half, we wanted to see something positive out there. We just want to bring people out to celebrate getting back to a kind of normality,” said Ivano Centemeri, vice president and Northern Nevada regional executive chef of Caesars Entertainment Inc., owner of The Row.

Lotsa pasta; Bellini buzz

PHOTO/PROVIDED TO RN&R: The Eldorado Resort Casino’s famed mushroom ravioli and other pastas will be served streetside at the 39th Great Italian Festival Oct. 9-10, 2021, in downtown Reno.

Plans call for fewer food booths than in previous years. Gone are the streetside pizza and the labor-intensive spaghetti and meatballs — “We were making the meatballs; they weren’t frozen,” Centemeri said — but other pastas like meat ravioli, the famed mushroom ravioli, lasagna, and gnocchi with pesto are making an appearance.

So are chicken Parmigiana sandwiches, their sausage and pepper cousins, fried calamari and garlic bread. The popular boozy Bellini booth will be back, too.

Pinch of this, dash of that

PHOTO/PROVIDED TO RN&R: Ivano Centemeri, left, the regional executive chef for Caesars Entertainment Inc., is overseeing the food and drink side of the 39th Great Italian Festival, Oct. 9-10, 2021, in downtown Reno, and helping to judge the sauce cookers competition.

Besides street food, the pasta sauce contest is a perpetual anchor of the Italian Festival. Teams from across the region prepare their family sauce recipes as they compete for bragging rights. So far, at least 30 families have signed up to compete, organizers said, a solid number as the festival returns.

Judges for this year’s competition include chef Centemeri and Johnathan L. Wright, food and drink editor of Reno News & Review.

To taste sauces, folks may purchase $5 pasta muffin tins in front of the Reno Ballroom, 401 N. Center St., beginning 12:30 p.m. each day of the event.

Grapes smashed, gelato scarfed

PHOTO/PROVIDED TO RN&R: The cold, inky, squishy, squelchy pleasures of the grape stomp are perenially popular at the Great Italian Festival, running Oct. 9-10 in 2021 in downtown Reno.

Other highlights of the 39th Great Italian Festival:

  • Sign up for the public grape stomping contest that begins 10 a.m. Oct. 9. Local worthies will stomp starting 11 a.m. Oct. 10;
  • An Italian farmers market runs Oct. 9 and 10;
  • Sign up in advance for the children’s gelato-eating contest (ages 5-11) that begins 3 p.m. Oct. 10 at the grape stomp stage;
  • Kiddie Land with cornhole games, a slide and face painting will be on Fifth Street across from Circus Circus Reno; and
  • Seven music acts will variously perform across two stages on both festival days.

The Italian Festival began in 1982 at the Eldorado Resort Casino, part of The Row. Eldorado Resorts Inc. completed its $17.3 billion merger with Caesars Entertainment in July 2020.

Johnathan L. Wright is the food and drink writer for Reno News & Review. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsJLW or on Facebook personally or at @FoodNevada. Sign up here for the Reno News & Review free weekly newsletter highlighting our most recent stories.

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