It took some time, but Antonio Capone has finally returned to his family’s original trade. After a successful career in Italy as a documentary filmmaker and seven years in the New York City restaurant industry, he recently opened Un Posto Italiano: a delightful little shop selling fresh, handmade—we’re talking dough made that morning, rolled out to order, all by Capone himself—pasta on a Park Slope side street.
“I know how to make pasta because of my family; my grandmother, my mother, my sister, all make pasta,” Capone explains. But it was his grandfather who made a business out of it.
Capone’s grandfather was a pastamaker in Abruzzo, Italy, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1912, he left for the United States, ending up in Brooklyn. A few months later, he died suddenly of an unknown cause, and although the family isn’t totally sure, they think he was trying to start a pasta-making business here in New York.
Now Capone, also originally from Abruzzo, is picking up where he thinks his grandfather left off.
Although he already knew the basics when he decided to open the shop, Capone returned to Italy to study pasta making with a master named Pasquale. He quickly learned to obsess over details. “Fifty percent of the business is just looking for the ingredients. It’s easy to open a restaurant or a pasta store, but if you don’t use the right ingredients…” he trails off, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, good luck with that.
A dutiful student, Capone then spent months researching and testing various products. “[Pasquale] taught me … [that] pasta is all about the flour, ” he says. He tried several American varieties in an effort to use local ingredients, but none was up to snuff. He finally settled on two Italian flours that he gets through Bronx-based Gustiamo importers. One’s a top-quality remilled semola or semolina from a small operation owned by three Sicilian brothers, another’s a 00 soft white flour from Molino Pasini mill in Montova. When he returns back from trips to the motherland, he’ll also sometimes stuff a few extra bags of Abruzzo’s soft wheat flour into his suitcase.
Back in Park Slope, Un Posto Italiano’s entrance looks like it belongs to an apartment, save for a dangling wooden sign and black awning (the store is actually in a former living room that Capone and the landlord reverted back to its originally zoned retail designation). Inside, Capone greets customers from his small-but-functional open kitchen where bits of dough litter the counter. He’s often kneading dough, and except for the gnocchi and ravioli, he rolls and cuts pastas to order.
Entering the shop feels like you’ve just discovered a secret Italian-ingredient treasure trove, with shelves holding items like imported Sicilian olive oil, real San Marzano tomatoes and homemade sauces. There are sometimes seasonal items, too, like homemade pesto in the summer.
Capone doesn’t keep a set product list and his pastas often sell out before closing time. A chalkboard lists the daily pasta offerings: usually one or two noodle shapes, a ravioli of the day and gnocchi that are all priced per pound. Capone also lists the ingredients and their origins, including flours, cheeses and meats, usually from Italy and sometimes from Pennsylvania’s Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. If a customer’s not sure how much pasta to order, Capone, like a butcher, will suggest an amount according to the number of diners and the size of their appetites.
He’s also happy to recommend what kind of pasta to purchase, his favorites being Abruzzo-born chittarina and chitarra. “Everyone of course knows spaghetti, but for me, the local spaghetti is chitarrina. [I think] it’s much better, because spaghetti is round and chitarrina is square and can take the sauce.”
Capone achieves this quadrilateral form with a dedicated chitarra—literally “guitar”—tool that looks like a double-sided harp. On one side, the box-like device has close-set strings meant for cutting chittarina, while the other side has wider-set strings meant for making chitarra. When ordered, Capone places a flattened sheet of dough on the appropriate side of the chitarra, dusts it and employs a rolling pin–like tool to press the dough through the strings, cutting the dough into shape. He then sculpts nest-like bundles that he packages in simple brown boxes, secured with a string.
“It’s not that my pasta is better, it’s just different,” he insists. Having tasted his pasta, I’m inclined to disagree, though—it is better.
Video by Meredith Zinner Photography.