Laughter and the tantalizing aroma of Italian cuisine filled the air inside the Steriti Memorial Rink in the North End Friday night. The occasion was the annual Taste of the North End event, where 35 of the neighborhood’s best restaurants gathered together for a worthy cause.
Classic Italian staples like risotto, meatballs, and cannoli’s were served alongside innovative dishes like truffled polenta and grilled octopus. An estimated 600 visitors were in attendance, making the rounds to their favorite North End restaurants and bidding in the silent auction.
The event was founded in 1993 by North End restaurateur Donato Frattaroli in order to raise money for Casa Monte Casino, a facility where families would stay while seeking treatment at hospitals. 24 years ago, Frattaroli got 15 North End restaurants together and hosted the first ever Taste of the North.
Fifteen years ago, Frattaroli partnered with North End Waterfront Health CEO James Luisi to allocate proceeds from the event to benefit the organization. The nonprofit organization offers healthcare services to the diverse populations living in and around the North End neighborhood. As a government-funded health center, North End Waterfront Health doesn’t turn away any patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Zachary Goodale serves as the public affairs coordinator of North End Waterfront Health in addition to being the event coordinator for Taste of the North End. Goodale explained that the organization is unlike other healthcare centers in Boston.
“We offer a lot of things that typical other health centers wouldn’t like transportation services,”
Goodale said. “We also do a lot of outreach projects for the youth and elderly in our neighborhood.”
Year after year the event grew more popular, eventually outgrowing the New England Aquarium in 2010 and moving to DCR’s Steriti Rink. This year, Goodale and his event committee began preparation for the event as early as November, sending out letters to North End restaurants and sponsors for donations.
The event is also known for auctioning one-of-a-kind sports memorabilia as the silent auction held as the center of the rink. The auction features signed jerseys and posters from Boston athletes and teams. The grand prize at the auction was an extravagant seven-day Italian getaway package to Abruzzo, Italy. Goodale suggested that it’s likely the event raised $100,000 from the auction, ticket sales, and sponsors.
According to Goodale, each year Neptune Oyster accumulates the longest line at the event. Goodale said that its booth is always positioned close to the door, so the piles of oyster shells can immediately be discarded.
Owner of Neptune Oyster Jeff Nace and his staff spent the night shucking fresh oysters to the delight of hungry guests. The oysters are best eaten raw with a light sprinkle of lemon, or a dab of tabasco for a kick.
“We have been part of the event for 12 years. It’s a great cause.” Nace said. “My daughter grew up in the North End so we feel part of the community.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09 made an appearance late into the evening, shaking hands and embracing members of the North End community. In an interview with The Heights, Walsh expressed his affection for the annual event.
“It’s a great event supporting a great cause down in the North End of Boston,” Walsh said. “The best food in America is probably in this hockey rink tonight.”
Each year, the organizing committee comprised of Goodale, Frattaroli, Luisi, and more decide on two public figures from the North End to honor. Goodale explained that the committee likes to choose someone from outside the restaurant business, and someone inside the restaurant business to honor.
This year, former Massachusetts Speaker of the House Salvatore Dimasi and owner of Taranta restaurant José Duarte were recipients of the events’ awards. Goodale noted that he felt it was Duarte’s time to be honored after all his charity work as a North End community activist.
As Walsh took to the stage to make some closing remarks, he praised Dimasi for his political contributions.
“When he was the Speaker of the House, universal health insurance was passed, marriage equality was passed, including other landmark legislation that we have.” Walsh said.
Despite the North End recently becoming a hotspot for newer businesses, it will always be synonymous with family-owned Italian restaurants. The Taste of the North End event proved that there are many who still feel deeply connected to the neighborhood.
“It’s a proud food area and a proud historical heritage area so people feel very tied to the North End,” Goodale said.
Featured Image by William Batchelor/ Heights Editor