St. Philip Neri Catholic Church built its new sanctuary in 2013 about a mile from I-77 exit 85 in fast-growing Fort Mill. Tom Hanchett
St. Philip Neri Catholic Church built its new sanctuary in 2013 about a mile from I-77 exit 85 in fast-growing Fort Mill. Tom Hanchett

Restaurant News & Reviews

Taste Italy in Charlotte at two weekend festivals

By Tom Hanchett


May 16, 2017 10:06 AM

Between the 1880s and 1910s, thousands of Italian immigrants streamed into places like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Cleveland seeking the American Dream. Now many of their great-grandkids are moving south to Charlotte, a new epicenter of opportunity.

That means authentic Italian food is finally a thing in the land of the meat-and-three. You can taste and discover at two different weekend festivals around the Queen City.

St. Philip Neri Italian Festival honors the Italian background of many of the church members, including founding priest Father John Guiliani.
Tom Hanchett

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At the upscale end of the spectrum, check out Festa Italiana under the soaring canopy of uptown Charlotte’s Gateway Promenade. This Sunday afternoon, it fills with 10 restaurant chefs preparing Italian appetizers and risottos. Expect wine and – for your sweet tooth – cannoli and gelato. It’s all-you-can-eat for one ticket price, benefiting Charlotte’s Nevins Center.

Want down-home Italian family food? Get over to the Italian Festival at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, just off I-77 two exits below Carowinds; it starts on Thursday and runs for three days. The church takes its name from an Italian saint, and its founding priest (Father John Guiliani) grew up Italian in Rhode Island. So naturally, the parishioners launched an Italian festival as a fundraiser, now in its 22nd year.

Denny Rodino, who grew up in an Italian community near Pittsburgh, supervises the meatball-making at Fort Mill's St. Philip Neri Italian Festival.
Tom Hanchett

“We’ve made about a thousand pounds of meatballs this year, all mixed by hand,” says church member Denny Rodino. A descendant of Italian steelworkers, he comes from the Pittsburgh area by way of Cleveland and Syracuse.

“Every Italian home’s gotta have its own recipes for meatballs and sausage,” he says with pride. “Ours is from Ann DiNoto. I took over the meatball-making from her.” And nope, he won’t disclose, except to say it involves parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and “our own mix of spices.”

“Our sausage recipe we’ve been using for about 12 years. It’s from Joe Tramontana, from New York state,” Rodino goes on. “We make some hot, some mild – 1,140 pounds this year. It always sells out.”

Look for sausage sandwiches with grilled sweet peppers and onions. Or ask for a sausage on your pasta plate – with house-made red sauce, of course.

Reach community historian Tom Hanchett at He writes about Charlotte and the South at

St. Philip Neri Italian Festival

When: 5-9 p.m. Thursday, May 18; 5-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, 292 Munn Road East, Fort Mill, S.C.

Details: 803-548-7282;

Festa Italiana Charlotte

When: 1-7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Promenade at Gateway Village, 800 W. Trade St.

Details: 704-560-3030;