Event Recap: That's Amore, The Love of Learning Gala

Lindsay Bull

On March 23, 2013, Baltimore Eats attended the South Baltimore Learning Center (SBLC)'s That's Amore, The Love of Learning Gala. This black-tie optional event was held to benefit the SBLC's programs that help local South Baltimore residents achieve a level of education that was at one time not available to them in the past due to differing personal reasons. The gala was well executed, from start to finish. And the speeches and presentations really had some extra special sentiment, with the speakers’ moving words even bringing a tear to the eyes of many.


Upon arrival, the registration area was speedy and efficient, with alphabetized sections for each guest to check-in. We received our program guides and silent auction bidding information and were led into the cocktail reception area by one of the SBLC's Learners. There were so many silent auction items on display, such as restaurant goodies, wine packages, outings, and more. It was difficult to narrow down the choices of which we wanted to bid on.


Along with the silent auction items on display, we were greeted with an appetizer buffet spread. The appetizers consisted of antipasti, salad, lunchmeats, bread, crudites, and dips. They had already run out of the wings, so we assume they must have been quite tasty. The appetizers we snacked on were fresh and delicious, but we didn't want to fill ourselves before the dinner buffet was ready. We proceeded into the main dining room as the dinner area opened up.


The decor was remarkable. It had an air of a formal Italian wedding with many rich hues of red, black, and crisp white. Round tables were adorned with a red rose, votives atop sparkly hearts, and color coordinating balloons. The seated dinner reception was a nice surprise and much appreciated over having to stand at cocktail tables like some other events we have been to in the past.


There were two large walls lined with dinner buffet stations. There was everything from seafood, to pasta, hot snacks, a carving station, sushi, and more. Some of our favorites included the flavorful beef taco with pico de gallo from Banditos; hot, crispy fried cheesesteak ravioli with tomato sauce and zesty aioli from Hot Corner Lee's; exceptionally fresh and flavorful spicy tuna roll (with conveniently pre-mixed soy sauce and wasabi for spooning on top) from Matsuri; smoky, tender beef tongue carpaccio and variety of charcuterie items and pungent cheeses from Bluegrass; and melt-in-your-mouth tender carved turkey and beef from the Nunally Brothers.


We did not get to try the crab soup and plump, juicy oysters, but they both received rave reviews from our fellow dining partners. There were still many other items we did not get a chance to sample, as we were feeling gluttonous in our fill and wanted to leave room for the dessert that we knew was coming up after the program.


As we finished up our dinner, Master of Ceremonies, Fox 45’s Vytas Reid, announced the upcoming presentation. After a brief intro speech about the event, executive director Sonia Socha was introduced. She spoke about the organization and its importance to the community. She also noted the remarkable learners' graduation rate of last year: 94.


The special speaker for the evening was then introduced. Catherine Palmer was one of SBLC's General Education Development graduates from 12 years ago. She shared her current story, as well as moments of her youth and what led her to the SBLC. She now owns and operates Barista Catt's Cafe, a small coffee shop located at 1501 West Baltimore Street. She gave a very moving speech that opened us up to how the SBLC’s ongoing programs not only provide an education to the learners, but that they also open up many doors and allow the graduates to lead lives they may not have otherwise previously imagined. Upon the completion of Catherine's speech, she received a well-deserved standing ovation from the entire crowd.


The Associated Italian American Charities (AIAC) was then spotlighted, as they have been a longstanding supporter of the SBLC. It was noted that they have donated almost $40,000 to the organization. AIAC member and SBLC sponsor, Mike Gallerizzo was called as their honoree.


Dean Martin’s classic song, "That's Amore" was reworded by SBLC instructor Jan Albert Elliott into a fun spin retitled as "That's a Learner," as they introduced the SBLC learners. As each person was introduced and walked across the stage, a different line of the song was sung solo by a talented gentleman, making reference to the learners.


At the close of the presentation, the live auction was held. Although we did not bid on the live auction, it was fun to see how much was being raised and the kinds of unique prizes the guests were winning. There was everything from a trip to Paris, to a Flacco football and ticket package, to a chance for a special grade-school child to spend time under the wing of Fox 45's Steve Fertig and produce a weather report on television.


And then there was dessert. The former appetizer area was replaced with hot coffees and a bountiful display of sheet cake, chocolate mint cake, lemon pound cake, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and pizelles. I'm not going to say I tried everything on those tables, but then again I'm not going to say I didn't, either! There was also a table with Hull Street Blues serving a warmed toffee bread pudding with caramel. Not personally a fan of bread pudding, toffee, or caramel, I found this dessert to be remarkable. Rich bread, buttery caramel, and crunchy toffee bits all came together perfectly in each bite. This was neither dry nor plain, as I find many bread puddings to be, often requiring the use of fruit compotes and heavy sauces to provide palatable flavor and moisture.


 As we finished our drinks and desserts, the band Fifth Avenue delighted us to covers of classic hits from KC and the Sunshine Band, The Commodores, and Frankie Valli to name a few. It was clear that the guests were having a great time on the dance floor burning off some of the calories they consumed earlier in the evening. The silent auction tables closed in 15 minute intervals, and everyone made their last minute bids. Sadly, we did not win any of the great auction items.


It is a sure bet to say this event was a hit. The food was overall fantastic, the guests classy, and the venue and atmosphere absolutely gorgeous. I wish all of the SBLC's current and future learners the best of luck and future success! If you didn't have a chance to attend the event this year, please check them out next year and show your support of this wonderful organization that betters locals' lives every day. This is really something not to miss, as well as an opportunity to do something new and different for a fancy, yet fun night out on the town.


View additional event photos online here


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