It's easy to spot Tony Vitantonio's house during the Feast of the Assumption. It stands three stories tall at one of the neighborhood's well-traveled corners, and family and friends pack its porches and balconies as the four-day celebration rolls on.
And if it's Aug. 15, you'll find Vitantonio stationed in the kitchen whipping up sausage, pizza, ravioli and tripe for his guests. "Everyone's always welcome," says Vitantonio, who doles out homemade wine to the adults and mini Italian flags to the kids, "but that's the only day I cook."
The 44-year-old was born and raised in the neighborhood. He's the third-generation funeral director for the Conti-Vitantonio Funeral Home, where his mother still resides. He lives across the street with his wife and three children in a home that once belonged to his grandparents. The family's ties to the neighborhood run deep, and Vitantonio doesn't plan on changing that.
"Our family's been a member [at Holy Rosary] for probably close to 85, 90 years or more," he says. "It's important to me that there's still a family member at the church."
His family heads to Primo Vino for dandelion salad and spinach and beans, Nido Italia for Mother's Day, and Valentino's for pizza — though he admits they occasionally leave the neighborhood for pizza. "I've been eating that stuff for 40 years," he says with a laugh.
But while you can take the boy out of Little Italy, you can't take Little Italy out of the boy. On a recent trip to Boston, he tried a cannoli at a modern downtown bakery.
"I said, 'I'm going back to Cleveland; these are lousy,' " he remembers. "We have the best cannolis."