Music played a role in the success of last year’s Italian Fest in Middletown. Chuck Evans will entertain the crowd at this year’s event. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Middletown Italian Fest returns for the second year tonight: What to know

Italian Fest will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. today in conjunction with First Friday when downtown businesses have expanded hours and typically run specials, said Ami Vitori, managing partner of Gracie’s Restaurant, sponsor of this month’s First Friday.

Vitori said the festival gives local residents an opportunity to be “Italian for a day” and to celebrate Middletown’s rich, diverse heritage.

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First Friday’s theme is “Mangia (Eat) Middletown,” Vitori said.

Those looking to try Italian food, drinks and desserts can purchase $25 tickets for a progressive dinner. A spaghetti and meatball dinner with Central Pastry bread will be served at Gracie’s; Swire Inn, 64 S. Main St. will offer a special Italian cocktail; Craft Kitchen inside Pendleton Art Center, 1105 Central Ave., will serve pasta salad; Triple Moon Coffee Company, 1100 Central Ave., will have cannoli; and Mockingbirds, 1024 Central Ave., will offer Italian ice cream.

The goal of the dinner, Vitori said, is to introduce people to as many downtown businesses as possible. She said guests can “eat around downtown.”

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Spoken Bicycles, 1201 Central Ave., will host a spaghetti eating contest and there will be adult and children divisions. Contestants will have 10 minutes to eat as much spaghetti as possible. One catch: No hands are allowed. Participants are encouraged to register on-line.

Vitori said the “big, new thing” this year is a community water balloon fight, set for 8 p.m. at Swallen’s Park. She said Italian summer festivals typically feature a water balloon fight.

She said the two teams will be headed up by Middletown police officers and firefighters. Children can earn 10 water balloons by signing a “Love Your Neighbor” pledge. The goal of the pledge is to encourage the children to be better citizens, Vitori said.

Children can also earn balloons at downtown businesses, Vitori said.

“It will be a massive water balloon fight,” she promised. “Really a lot of fun.”

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