Cassinelli Pasta – Queens, New York - Gastro Obscura

With a nondescript green awning, tucked away on a strip that includes an accountant’s office and a barbershop, Cassinelli is a legend in pasta. Founded in 1912 in Manhattan and later relocated to New Jersey, the pasta shop moved to Astoria in the 1930s. It’s been turning out fresh noodles from its mesmerizing collection of small pasta machines ever since.

Visitors to the small shop, including some locals who’ve been relying on its fresh macaroni for their Sunday dinners for more than half a century, don’t just get to bring the tender semolina noodles home. They can also gaze into the open kitchen as the owners and pasta makers knead, press, and squeeze the yellow dough into ornate shapes of carbohydrate bliss.

In 1957, young mother Nella Costella regularly walked her baby carriage past Cassinelli Pasta, stopping in to chat. Like so many residents of the heavily Italian-American neighborhood, she had emigrated from Italy a few years before with no knowledge of English. She took night classes and became friendly with the proprietors of the neighborhood pasta shop, eventually starting a part-time job. More than 50 years later, Costella co-owns Cassinelli, alongside Tony Bonfigli, who also emigrated from Italy in the 1950s. While now in their late 70s, the two continue to work in the storefront alongside their small crew, guarding the legacy of the oldest—and, some would argue, best—pasta shop in Queens. Today, their regulars include upscale Manhattan restaurants as well as even pickier customers: Italian-American grandmothers.

Visitors to Cassinelli will find a bustling shop full of playful conversation in Italian and a rotating array of regulars looking to buy fresh ravioli, spaghetti, and gnocchi. The shop produces up to 4,000 pounds of pasta a day, including less common pastas such as squid-ink linguine and bucatini, a long, tubular noodle with a hole in the center, traditionally eaten by Sicilians on St. Joseph’s Day. Machines crank out these shapes and more from endless sheets of dough, which unspool like fabric in a sewing machine and are pressed through thin holes into long, squiggly spaghetti. Visitors can also purchase spinach, meat, or cheese ravioli—or, if they’re feeling ambitious, buy thin, cornmeal-dusted sheets of the pasta to fill and cut into ravioli at home. Midday visitors shouldn’t be surprised if the shop is briefly shuttered around noontime, however: The Cassinelli crew has their priorities in order, and makes sure to take a break for their daily lunch.

Know Before You Go

Throwing back to an earlier, more chilled-out time, the shop has limited hours, usually 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Check their website and Instagram for closures before making the trek. 

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July 8, 2019

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