About 10 years ago, Rick Gencarelli started serving sandwiches out of a food cart in Portland. He had left behind a career at Todd English restaurants and an idyllic Vermont farm to move to Portland with his wife and two children, opening the first Lardo in Southeast Portland.
The cart became a restaurant, then another, and after becoming something of a local celebrity, the chef opened Grassa: A casual, kid-friendly pasta shop with turntables playing old records and bowls of noodles named for his kids. Gencarelli says he wanted the restaurant to feel accessible to families without feeling tacky — inexpensive handmade pasta in a relaxed environment. “The whole family can go and not feel compromised,” he says of the restaurant. “You can drink beer and listen to music. You can take your kids without losing your cool.”
Gencarelli’s kids are older now, and so is he. His third Grassa, just a few steps from the original Lardo restaurant, opens any day now, and he’s picking out a new record collection for the restaurant. “Training millennials to use a record player? It’s crazy,” he says, with a laugh. “They touch every surface of the record, or grab the needle and scratch them up.” Most of the people at the new location will know their way about a record player, however; the management staff consists of Gencarelli vets, from Lardos and Grassas, and the employees have trained at the other locations around town.
This Grassa, however, will be the first of the chainlet’s locations on the east side of the river. But like Gencarelli, this Grassa has leveled up: A massive pasta-making station will be visible from outside the shiny new construction near 13th and Hawthorne, building piles of radiatore and bucatini for bolognese and carbonara. The restaurant will have a more extensive bar than any of the other locations, with eight beers, eight white wines, and eight red wines all on tap. The restaurant is doubling down on booths and comfy seating, including a big, circular “gangster booth” (in his words) in the corner of the restaurant.
Once this Grassa opens — Tuesday the 31st is the plan — Gencarelli will focus on opening his first location in Washington: A Vancouver Grassa in the massive waterfront development on the opposite side of the Columbia. Then, he’ll focus on projects farther south; namely, the Grassa and Lardo opening in Lake Oswego. Beyond the known entities, the chef and business owner is still playing around with more ideas for 2020 — but he’s tight-lipped about them these days. For now, it’s all about Grassa Three, located at 1375 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
• Grassa [Official]
• Lardo [Official]
• Grassa [Instagram]
• Southeast Portland is Getting its Own Grassa [EPDX]
• St. Jack and Five Other Portland Restaurants Will Open in Lake Oswego [EPDX]
• Previous Grassa coverage [EPDX]