Using a mattarello, a three-foot long Italian rolling pin, and his hands, Chase Dopson makes pasta magic. Within a St. Johns kitchen, the chef takes freshly kneaded balls of dough and rolls them into sheets, cutting noodles by hand or using traditional tools to stamp out filled pastas like anolini. Pastificio d’Oro, the pop up he co-owns, has served bowls of tortelloni, maltagliati con fagioli, and gramigne alla salsiccia on a weekly basis within Gracie’s Apizza for a year, but soon, the pop-up will graduate to full-blown pasta shop status. On November 1, it will take over the current Gracie’s Apizza space, opening an Italian restaurant specializing in Piedmontese cuisine.
Dopson, who formerly worked at Portland restaurants like Jacqueline, Bistro Agnes, and Toro Bravo, taught himself to make pasta only a year before starting the pop-up with partner Maggie Irwin.
“It’s been kind of crazy to watch myself evolve in the craft,” Dopson says. “It’s so fun to be involved in something that you can progress and grow at. I’m learning new stuff every day still. I find [pasta making] super cathartic, very meditative.”
Dopson gravitated towards this old-school style of pasta making after watching the YouTube channel Pasta Grannies and reading books such as American Sfoglino. Although many Italian restaurants across the U.S. claim to make “handmade” pasta, they often employ the use of pasta makers, whether electric or manual. Very few make it solely by hand, according to Dopson.
The difference can be tasted, both texturally and flavor-wise—when the dough is kneaded by hand, air is incorporated. As the pasta is rolled out with a pin, the gentle pressure disperses air bubbles evenly throughout. “When you cook it, it just has this lightness and delicate texture,” Dopson says. “I just think that’s the most amazing thing. You look at [the sheet of pasta] and it, for lack of a better term, has got life to it. You’ve intentionally added all of this energy.”
When Pastificio d’Oro transitions from pop-up to restaurant, its focus will shift from the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna to another region in Italy — Piedmont. The menu’s structure of antipasti, handmade pasta, dessert, and wine will remain, with dishes continuing to change biweekly. But diners will soon sit down to plates of agnolotti dal plin and tajarin, egg-based pastas typical to Piedmont, rather than the tagliatelle and tortelli Dopson has been rolling out for the past year. As colder weather approaches, he plans to incorporate hearty dishes like gnocchi, risotto, red wine-braised beef with polenta, and roast rabbit into the rotation.
Irwin, on the other hand, describes herself as the restaurant’s ‘salad mommy.’ Maggie’s Salad, as it’s known on the menu, is a pretty pile of Wild Roots lettuce, shaved radish, and herbs. But her five-ingredient salad dressing has been such a hit that customers were asking if the restaurant sold it, which it started doing last month. Outside of the kitchen, Irwin — who briefly worked at Gracie’s prior to the pandemic — will lend the couple’s personal touches to the dining room’s redesign. Plants and thrifted vintage tchotchkes will line the walls atop floating shelves. At a pasta rolling station, diners will be able to see Dopson in action and his tools on display, while his pasta bibles perch on a shelf above. He often gets requests to teach pasta making classes, but simply refers interested parties to the same books that taught him.
While a pop-up, Pastificio’s wine list was borrowed from Gracie’s owner Craig Melillo’s wine offerings. Irwin and Dopson will curate their own small wine selection, keeping it to six or seven wines. The wine menu will favor Italian wines, certainly, but Spanish and Oregon wines will also be in the mix. For something a bit stronger, diners will take interest in Dopson’s housemade amari and nocino, an Italian liqueur made from walnuts.
With Irwin’s hospitality matching the homey vibe of Dopson’s culinary projects turned menu hits, the pair has struck an air of an Old World mom-and-pop Italian trattoria. “I want to make people feel the way the food makes them feel, but in a personal interaction,” Irwin says. “Like they came to my house.”
Pastificio d’Oro is currently open Sunday through Tuesday at 8737 N Lombard Street.