Terrific tastes, terrific trouble

Dan Rodricks

February 06, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

There were so many highlights to the Sixth Annual Ethnic Taste Festival at the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown, one doesn't know where to begin in listing them.

If we begin at the buffet table, right away we're in trouble.

Catherine Donato's Italian wedding soup certainly stood out. "Way back, before they had caterers, the Italian people used to make this for the wedding," Mrs. Donato explained. "It's spinach, a little egg and little meatballs. Here, have some."

Delicious.

But more delicious than Filomena Tirabassi's Italian chicken soup? Or Anna Koros' golumbki? Or Elizabeth League's Hungarian goulash? Or Mary Patragas' gizzards-and-rice? Or Julia Kohjda's kielbasa-and-sauerkraut? Or Virgie Lucas's okra fritters? Or Chris Ruotolo's fried eggplant? Or Ethel Erdossy's English pea salad? Or Alice Dzwonczyk's cheese blintzes? More delicious than Ann and Mary Spanglo's Italian omelet?

You see what I mean? It's a sticky web we weave in trying to list THE highlight of the Sixth Annual Ethnic Taste Festival at the John Booth Senior Center. With so many contributors, there is a chance of overlooking someone who whipped up something superb.

More important, if we decide that one dish was better than another -- and say so in this newspaper column -- then we're asking for trouble like you wouldn't believe: Like your mother chasing you down the street with a spatula in her hand.

The dessert table was amazing. But don't ask me to pick THE highlight. I wouldn't dare.

Ann Esposito's Jell-o mold, Marie Massarone's Italian cookies, Mildred Schofield's rhubarb cake, June Goldfield's cheese kugel, Sophia Chovan's chrusciki, Frances Sponar's chrusciki, Mary Newberger's rice pudding, and cakes by Lil Juliano, Frances Seta, Grace Phillips and Esther Stein -- too much, too good.

It left me bloated.

Just when it was time for coffee, Johnny Nelson did the unexpected.

He slid behind the piano -- and pulled out his accordion.

It was a beauty, too. A cream-colored Atlas.

"See," said Johnny Nelson, who is known around Eaton Street as Jack. "I got this accordion from another guy. He wanted to give it to me. But I insisted on paying for it. He asked for seventy-five."

How much did you pay for it?

"Fifty."

Then Johnny sang his torch song: "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." Breaking with tradition, he sang the entire song without once clearing his throat in mid-verse!

It was a wonderful moment, a highlight. But not THE highlight.

Things only got better after Johnny performed on the accordion. He put the Atlas down and opened the piano. Bill Hoffman, director of the famous John Booth Senior Center Singers, raised his hands. The singers, resplendent in their traditional white and red, sang the "Hello" song. They always sing the "Hello" song. They wave to the audience as they sing, which is a charming touch: "Hello. Hello. HELLO! What a wonderful word, HELLO!!"

But that was not the highlight of the performance. Nor was the ethnic medley. We have heard that before. You take your basic Italian love song, your basic German beer garden chorus, an Irish tear-jerker and a Polish anthem, and you have the John Booth Senior Center Singers ethnic medley. It was lovely.

However, nothing could compare to the floor show.

"There was a time when Highlandtown had hobos," said Mr. Hoffman. "Well, here again are the Highlandtown hobos."

And a quintet of hobos, four women in rags and red noses and a man in mountaineer buckskin and coonskin cap, did a little shuffle to the tune of "Side By Side."

Then the Bloomer Girls, in billowy Victorian bathing suits and caps, sang "By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea" under parasols.

By now, we were laughing the bloats off our bellies.

When Ida Kotrla, who made chili for yesterday's luncheon, stepped out in a fox boa and sang, "Second-Hand Rose," she almost stole the show. I say almost because that's the hedge I need to avoid calling Ida's performance THE highlight of the Sixth Annual Ethnic Taste Festival at the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown.

As good as she was, I wouldn't want to declare her THE highlight. It wouldn't be fair. And I'd get in a whole lot of trouble, and they wouldn't invite me back next year.

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