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18th Avenue Feast: The foods and flavors

BENSONHURST — The annual Feast of Santa Rosalia — known by locals as the 18th Avenue Feast — is a celebration to honor the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily, with entertainment, music, rides carnival games and most importantly: food.

Each year a stretch of 18th Avenue, aka Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard, from 67th to 75th streets transforms and becomes a buffet of Italian street food. The feast kicked off last night, and lasts through Sept. 1.

It’s not hard to find a good sausage-and-peppers sandwich, so we recommend starting with that. The sausage is incredibly rich and juicy and when combined with the flavor of the peppers that create an encapsulating aroma around the sandwich, it’s no surprise this fare is one of the most popular at the feast.

If you’re up for something heavier, these turkey legs rotating vertically above a charcoal grill might be right up your alley.

But if not, they’re a great feast for the eyes as well.

“Enjoy your balls” is a real thing you’ll hear if you stop by the rice balls stand. They offer a diverse selection of flavors, but the Sicilian with ground beef and peas is a must. They’ll also give you a free side of marinara and the necessary sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.

Once the snacking is through, it’s time for some seafood — good thing there’s a stand dedicated to just that. When the feast kicks off for the day, this tray of octopus is filled about a foot high, according to the grill master who fires them up. As soon as the purple textured delight hits that grill, it’s surrounded by fire and a billow of smoke that makes it unrecognizable for a few seconds. It’s almost as if you can see the flavor cooking into it.

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When you get thirsty, the festival is lined with vendors selling these lemonades in the regular flavor and the superior pink.

While it may be a Sicilian festival, this one has its fair share of Hispanic influence. Multiple stands offer displays of empanadas, chicharrones, arepas and corn on the cob. The corn on the cob and arepas are a good path to dessert. With the freshly grilled sweet cob, you can get it slathered in butter and covered in grated cheese, if you’re into that.

As for these arepas, they’re made with sweet corn and stuffed with mozzarella, presenting as a savory snack with a sweet aftertaste — but not too intense, lining you up for the real sweets after.

There’s a colorful stand offering white, dark and milk chocolate-covered treats. They sell a variety of foods dipped in chocolate like the classic apple, pretzel and strawberries.

Finally, it wouldn’t be a proper street fair without the obligatory bag of zeppoles, spotted with grease and filled with powdered sugar. Even if you’re full from the night’s bounty, you can bring them home for a late-night snack.

The feast will be held from Aug. 22 through Sept. 1.

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