FROM WHERE I STOOD on 14th Avenue, if I squinted, I could make out just enough through the lace curtains on Cascina Spinasse’s steamed-up windows to know that the place was packed. On a Monday. Inside, some 15 revelers filled the longest trestle table, laughing around a cache of killed Barolo bottles, while boisterous conversations—at least one in Italian—floated up through the flickering candlelight. We nabbed the last two chairs in the joint: counter seats at the butcher block up front between a guy with Andy Warhol hair and Boat Street Café’s owner and chef, Renee Erickson, enjoying her night off. As we sat down, one of the gnarled candles in the brass dog candlestick near our place setting dripped a slow pool of wax onto my friend’s napkin. If Cascina Spinasse were any more Old World, we’d have arrived by horse.
Raw wood joists and wrought-iron chandeliers adorned the ceiling above us; nicked fir boards lined the floor. Wine, lots of it, from the Piedmont region of Italy, occupied wood shelves on dark wainscoted walls. Primitive pasta-cutting tools hung over the butcher block, where just two hours earlier Cascina Spinasse chef and part owner Justin Neidermeyer had lifted the broad sheets of yolk-yellow dough he’d dried on towels over the bar rail, then folded them like big burritos and cut them by hand. He’d fashioned the uneven ends into the random wide strips the Italians call maltagliati, or “badly cut,” then cut the rest into the fine strands known as tajarin.
From our counter perches we had a straight shot into the kitchen, where the rumpled, elfin, 31-year-old Neidermeyer carefully turned the cooked tajarin al ragu into a shallow oval serving dish. There was no mistaking the man whose run as a Ballard Farmers Market pasta peddler had made him as much of a celebrity as a farmers market is likely to produce. Chefs from all over town clamored to buy his pasta for their establishments. He supplied his buddies—Sitka and Spruce’s Matt Dillon, Lark’s John Sundstrom, my new dinner partner Renee Erickson—but he didn’t want his operation to grow too big, too commercial.
Neidermeyer dreamed of opening an intimate three-night-a-week dinner house in Eastlake where he would live upstairs, make pasta, keep things simple. But when lease issues queered the deal, out of desperation he grabbed the 14th Avenue space, former home of the Globe Café. Only later did he realize what an atmospheric gem he’d landed, or what slavering anticipation his farmers market notoriety had wrought among Italophiles across town. Cascina Spinasse opened in August, furnished with mismatched chairs, a mirror bought at Goodwill, and tables Neidermeyer had crafted by hand from 100-year-old fir. The place was slammed from day one.