“Fresh pasta versus box pasta — the difference is night and day,” says Diane Harding, owner of The Pasta Shoppe (38 W. Victoria St.,  770-3668, thepastashoppellc.com) in the Santa Barbara Public Market. “People come in and buy our pasta from Corona del Mar, Santa Monica, Thousand Oaks, and all say, ‘You have to open something by us!’”
Luckily for Santa Barbara, Harding chose to open here. Or perhaps that’s backward, as it was the market’s creator, Marge Cafarelli, who chose Harding. “I came from a large Italian family back east in New York and watched my nonni make pasta growing up, so I jumped at the opportunity,” said Harding. “Marge wanted a pasta maker in the market, so I auditioned for her. She enjoyed my pasta the most.” That’s no surprise to anyone who’s devoured the tagliatelle, agnolotti, or orecchiette that Harding’s team makes daily from organic, GMO-free, and Italian flour. It’s so fresh that you barely need to cook the noodles, and they’re full of flavor (especially with beet juice or squid ink) and delightfully chewy (think fresh bread versus something packaged).
“It is so gratifying when people taste our pasta and they’re blown away by it,” admitted Harding. “I’ve had tons of Italian customers come in and say we’ve hit the nail on the head — this is as close to Tuscan cuisine as you can get.” It doesn’t hurt that Harding hired Chef Brian Dodero, who had studied in Tuscany himself and worked under Chef Alessandro Cartumini at the Four Seasons Biltmore.
“It’s exciting to be working in the new place that is the talk of the town,” said Dodero. “It’s a big change from the Four Seasons, but it’s nice with the open kitchen to be able to get spend time with customers.” That kitchen prepares a menu of dishes like the classic spaghetti carbonara loaded with serious chunks of pancetta from Belcampo Meat Co. a few stalls over, as well as “some things that are different, like an oxtail ragù.” There’s a happy hour, a late-night menu (to enjoy at the Market’s Wine + Beer on weekends), and soon, said Dodero, “We’ll start a lunch menu, including grab-and-go so it doesn’t take up the whole lunch hour.”
The Pasta Shoppe’s first six months of success are already prompting expansion dreams. “We do make gluten-free pasta here, but it’s not for the gluten intolerant,” said Harding, who’d like to offer that option by finding a commercial kitchen with dedicated gluten-free space. She’d also like to grow their wholesale accounts; even Whole Foods is interested. “We have 575 square feet of space — it’s some pretty tight quarters,” said Harding. “We do really well with the space we have, but definitely more space could be better.”