If you blink while driving on Wellington St. between Queen St. and Barrack St., you’ll probably miss it. However, if you happen to be walking by, you’re likely to be lured in by the smell of freshly-baked focaccia and simmering tomato sauce.
Caught in the Queen’s bubble during my undergrad, it was not until I was in graduate school that I wandered in to the small storefront, which seems little bigger than a walk-in closet. But don’t let its size fool you: Pasta Genova is filled to capacity with fresh, made-on-site pastas, sauces and breads, not to mention amazing Calabrese olives. They also have an impressive selection of deli meats, cheeses, imported Italian favourites such as pickled eggplant and capers, as well as premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars at supermarket prices.
2013 marks the 25th year that this family-run institution has been satisfying Kingstionian’ Italian cravings. Anyone I’ve ever talked to about Pasta Genova has raved about the freshness of the pasta and the delicious sauces, as good as any of Nonna’s recipes. It’s a “go to” for many for their convenient take-and- bake meals (e.g. lasagnas), fresh pizza dough ($2) or for a quick lunch of a simple but delicious sandwich of salami, cheese and focaccia. Their cheese sticks are renowned City-wide. Made only on Fridays, don’t wait until after work to get yours, as they often sell out by early afternoon.
For the past few years, I’ve frequently visited Pasta Genova for their pizza dough and pastas and sauces. I was at first overwhelmed by all the choices — torn between linguini or ravioli, whether or not to get a flavoured (such as garlic and chive) pasta, and then faced with an abundance of sauce options (e.g. tomato basil, mushroom cream, bolognese, prosciutto cream, and spicy Arrabbiata to name a few). Our favourite sauce has been the mushroom cream. If you’re not sure what to try, the staff is extremely patient and helpful despite the hustle and bustle of the cramped quarters and are quick to offer suggestions of the best pairings and cooking times.
In addition to the delicious food, one thing that brings me back to Pasta Genova is the extremely reasonable prices. Most pasta servings run $3-4 and a small sauce, which is enough to saturate 2-3 servings of pasta, runs you $3.25-3.75. For under $20, I can easily make a restaurant-quality meal for three-plus people, with leftovers for the next day. It’s a steal, especially compared to restaurant prices for as-good-but-not-better fresh pasta. One advantage that Pasta Genova has over restaurants is it allows you the opportunity to cook at home like a master chef and impress your company, particularly if you include a few of the antipasto options.
There are a few things people should know before trying Pasta Genova for the first time: they don’t have a website or any sort of online profile, and the store is busy so allow yourself some time to decide between the options. Also, Pasta Genova only takes cash. There are lots of ATMs close by but the cash-only fact does surprise some patrons in 2013.
Perhaps the old ways are best: the price of the cheese sticks and focaccia is still the same as when they opened, a ridiculous bargain at $0.75 (compared to the $3.25/piece for focaccia at Pan Chancho)! More importantly, they continue to produce fresh pastas and sauces in the time-honoured way. Anyone who has tried to make fresh pasta knows that it’s not easy, involving a lot of machinery, counter space, and kneading that I prefer to leave to the pasta professionals!
If you haven’t tried Pasta Genova or haven’t ventured there in a while, you’re in for an authentic but affordable, convenient culinary treat. With the LCBO so close, pick up a bottle of vino to complete the Sicilian experience!
One final word of warning: while I’m confident that you’ll enjoy Pasta Genova’s food as much as Nonna’s, there is the considerable risk that you’ll like it MORE. If that’s the case, under no circumstances is it safe to inform Nonna of your predilection; it’ll be our little secret!