Pop-up Pastificio d’Oro Will Transport You to Northern Italy With Its Delicate, Handmade Tagliatelle and Tortelloni

At the start of the pandemic, chef Chase Dopson caught the pasta bug. That hobby has since evolved into a business.

Pastificio d’Oro is a restaurant inside another restaurant in St. Johns. But its heart—and thus, your stomach—is in Bologna, the Italian city known for its handmade pasta, meat ragù (aka “Bolognese”) and mortadella (which America turned into, yes, “bologna”). It also happens to be one of Portland’s sister cities.

The beloved cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, a region that includes Parma (as in prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano) and Modena (as in the balsamic vinegar), appears on the menu at a number of Portland restaurants serving a variety of Italian dishes. But at Pastificio, you’ll find only food with origins in the north-central province. For chef Chase Dopson and his partner Maggie Irwin, this is both a deliberate choice and practical reality since Pastificio is a pop-up operating out of Gracie’s Apizza just two nights a week.

While you were learning to bake sourdough at the start of the pandemic, Dopson caught “the pasta bug,” cracking eggs and rolling out dough for tagliatelle and tortelloni with a 100-centimeter mattarello (a particular style of rolling pin).

“It’s very meditative,” he says. “It’s just really fun to use no machines, and make something with literally a wooden stick and a board.”

Dopson had never actually worked in an Italian restaurant or cooked this type of food before—prior to the 2020 lockdown, he spent several years at Jacqueline—but he loved to eat it, and looked to Evan Funke, of L.A. restaurant Felix Trattoria, as well as the YouTube series Pasta Grannies, for inspiration. He started Pastificio selling home kits, and in September 2021 decided to give it a go at Gracie’s, where Irwin had previously worked.

With just a single induction burner to boil water and Gracie’s wood-fired oven, Dopson generally builds his menu around just two pastas, most frequently a tagliatelle ragù ($17) and a filled pasta in the tortellini family. The deeply flavored ragù has all the meats: beef chuck, pork shoulder, mortadella, prosciutto, pancetta and lard, plus mirepoix, meat broth, red wine and just a hint of tomato. The beef, pork and lard comes from Canby’s Revel Meat Co., while the cured components are sourced from Cowbell in Southeast Portland.

Other weeks you might find lasagna and the occasional primi special—most recently a breaded and fried pork cutlet with prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiana-Reggiano in cream sauce ($20). Light eating, this is not—even the simplest ricotta tortelloni ($15) with perfectly crisped sage leaves and browned butter is rich, while a dish called balanzoni, made with spinach tortelloni, doubles down on the denseness by incorporating mortadella in the filling.

“It is super-obviously very heavy food,” says Dopson, “but it’s very soul-soothing.”

“Nurturing,” Irwin adds.

“It’s this fine line between wanting to embody that Italian grandma who just wants to shovel food down your throat versus how much can someone eat?,” Dopson says.

To cut the richness are seasonal pickled vegetables ($5) and a simple insalata of escarole, radicchio and Little Gem ($9), both sourced from Wild Roots Farm. But the best thing to do is bring an extra-large appetite and order the entire menu. There’s always one dessert, while antipasti include a salumi plate ($9, or $12 with Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic vinegar) and Emilian fried bread with mortadella mostarda and squacquerone ($9), a creamy, extremely fresh cheese that Dopson makes in house because there’s really no way to import it.

“We had a guy who came in, he grew up in Bologna,” says Irwin, “and he was like, ‘I have never been able to have this [in America].’”

Dopson and Irwin have not been to Bologna themselves but hope to change that soon, and not just for a work trip—the two have been engaged since October 2020 (Irwin proposed).

“We want to go for our honeymoon,” says Dopson. “We want to go there and just like, eat and get drunk and look at all the beautiful architecture.”

EAT: Pastificio d’Oro, 8737 N Lombard St., doropdx.com. 5-8 pm Monday-Tuesday.