Guest blogger: Leanna from WellTraveledNebraskan.com
Omaha is no stranger to good food and fun summer festivals. And as someone who has traveled the world, I am such a sucker for these events, as I LOVE to go and get a taste of different countries right here in the comfort of my home city.
As the author over at WellTraveledNebraskan.com, I want to inspire people to travel and explore our own cities and state RIGHT HERE IN NEBRASKA. In fact, it is surprising to a lot of people, even us locals, just how much there is to do in Cornhusker State! Check out 26 EXPERIENCES to be Had in Nebraska or check out our Ultimate Bucket List of Things to Do in Nebraska.
But one of the things that Nebraska (and in particular, Omaha) does right is hold numerous ethnic festivals celebrating countries all over the world, their heritage, food, culture and more.
One of these is the Santa Lucia festival, held along the Lewis and Clark Landing in Downtown. Now, I don't know about you, but I feel like Italian food is just one of those genres that you simply can't go wrong with! Everyone loves SOME kind of Italian food (or if you are like me, you just like it ALL!)
While the Omaha Santa Lucia festival is on the smaller side, there is no doubt that you'll leave with an absolutely full stomach of delicious, homemade Italian classics and favorites. I personally had a little too much fun making my own food tour of the stalls!
And just in case you missed the festival this year, or simply just can't wait a year for an Italian Food Tour, you can ALWAYS check out Nebraksa Tour Company's Top 6 Pizza Stops free guide. And let’s be real here, while Omaha may not have a pizza style of it’s own, we sure know how to make an awesome pie of all styles!!!
And so just to wet your appetite on some delicious Italian foods from the Omaha area, here are 9 Foods You MUST Try At the Omaha Santa Lucia Festival or at a favorite locally run Omaha Italian restaurant if you see it on the menu!
Sausage and Peppers
It won't take long for you to smell the sausages cooking on the outdoor grills right in front of you! They take the delicious grilled Italian sausages, plop it in a huge bun and smother it with cooked peppers and onions.
Of course at an Italian festival, you can expect all the usual pastas! I was a bit disappointed that you could only get a red sauce. I would have LOVED to have seen a fresh pesto or a creamy carbonara somewhere! But, I'm sure they know what are crowd pleasers, and you probably just can't go wrong with a classic marinara pasta.
I got an order of the meat filled fried ravioli and apparently I wasn't the only one. There was soon a wait time of 20 minutes for these pocket sized goodies!!!
I personally loved this thicker crusted pizza with a slightly sweet sauce, topped with Italian sausage. It reminded me of the focaccia styled pizzas I'd gotten along the Amalfi Coast in Italy several summers back. A wood fired pizza, one reminiscent of more of a more Southern styled Italian pizza would have been amazing (considering there are several wood fired and brick oven restaurants in Omaha, like Pitch and Dante) but hey, maybe next year!
So I'd be lying if I said I hadn't tried all of the above main dishes. However, when I saw the dessert options, I just KNEW I had to save room!!!! (if that was even possible by this point!)
On such a hot June day, I opted for the homemade lemon Gelato. While not as creamy and thick as a true Italian gelato, can you really complain about a refreshing ice cream treat!? It went perfectly with the hot summer breeze along the riverside and Italian music playing!
While there are plenty of REALLY tasty homemade ice cream shops all over Omaha, who else would love an authentic, Italian Gelato stand in town!
HOLY CANNOLI!!!! I could have eaten my weight in this cannoli!!! It was seriously THAT good! The rolls were fried perfectly and the inside filling was the PERFECT combination of sweet ricotta, bite sized chocolate chips and pure deliciousness. The Santa Lucia festival is worth coming to if not for the cannoli alone!
Tiramisu and Fried Bread
While I would have loved to have tried EVERYTHING on the menus, I had already reached my max, but both the tiramisu and fried breads were making me wish I had a bigger stomach!!!
If you are like me and could only handle so many desserts but still need some tiramisu in your life, head to Omaha’s Spezia, for their killer chocolate and coffee dessert!
Italians know wine like Nebraskans know football. Few things can beat ordering a carafe of house wine at an Italian Cafe as you enjoy good food, views and company! I was a bit disappointed at the lack of authentic Italian wines offered, but at least there was a selection! A true Italian meal wouldn't be complete without at least the options of a red or white wine!
There were also soft drinks, waters, beers, lemonade and other refreshments.
A little bit about the Santa Lucia Festival
For those of us native Omahan's, can we just take a moment of silence for all the amazing, family run, local Italian mom and pop restaurants that are no longer with us?? Mr. C's, Venice Inn, Caniglias...just to name a few were all Omaha classics that we all grew up with. And it was Grazia Caniglia herself (talk about an Italian restaurant legacy in Omaha!), an Italian immigrant, that started the Santa Lucia Festival in the year 1924 in what is now known as Little Italy. The festival is dedicated to the Italian saint Lucia (Lucy).
Events at the Festival
This was the 94th year of the annual Omaha Santa Lucia Festival and had plenty of really fun events going on throughout the weekend, like a Bocce Ball Tournament, live festival bands playing Italian music, a Queen Coronation and more! It will be fun to see what is on the agenda for next year’s big event.
Other Favorite Italian Restaurants in Omaha to Get Tasty Italian Food All Year
If you weren’t able to make it to the Santa Lucia festival this year but are craving some seriously delicious Italian foods, here are some of the Well Traveled Nebraskan’s top picks, as a native Omahan myself and self-proclaimed Italian food lover!
And the Nebraska Tour Company Pizza Free Guide has all the local faves from La Casa to Mamas and everything in between!
Guest Author Bio
As a born and raised proud Omahan, LeAnna has had the opportunity to live and travel throughout the world. But even through all the amazing adventures, she still calls Omaha her “Homaha!” After learning so much about travel, it is now her passion to help fellow Nebraskans see that amazing travel, experiences and memories are right here in our own backyard of Nebraska. She shares these experiences and how-tos at WellTraveledNebraskan.com where you’ll be shocked and inspired with what is possible right here in the Cornhusker State!