Famiglia Baldassarre: Pasta Made Perfectly
Once a secret ‘pasta speakeasy,’ Famiglia Baldassarre on Toronto’s Geary Avenue is now widely recognized as making the best homemade pasta in the city.
In a metropolitan region of close to 6.5 million people, there are always a few good secrets, especially in the restaurant business. Foodies and urban tastemakers all seem to be members of some secret fraternity, knowing where to find the best of food and drink, and some of those secrets stay below the radar.
One of those secrets was Famiglia Baldassarre, owned by 35-year old Leandro Baldassarre, generally acknowledged by many of Toronto’s best restaurants as the leading maker of a variety of homemade pastas in the city. Baldassarre is also the founder, and it’s here where his story takes a most delicious turn, as for many months he was operating what best could be termed a “pasta speakeasy.” Known Baldassarre and his team have immense pride in taking the time and effort needed to create the best in authentic handmade Italian pasta only to neighbourhood locals and savvy foodsters, the secret to entry was not a keyhole and a password, like in the days of prohibition, but social media.
Born in Montreal and raised in Vaughan, Ont., Baldassarre’s love for pasta began through his love for his Italian family, rolling gnocchi and pinching ravioli with his grandmother.
“My grandmother would wake very early when it was still dark, and she always made me a soft-boiled egg,” he says in a recent interview with City Life. “I can still remember the glow of the light over the stove, and that would be the only light on. To this day, I still eat two eggs a day.”
“There is a lot of cultural pride in this type of work, and I love it. Tradition is there for a reason. Tradition is faultless”
He took to Italian food immediately and was cooking professionally at Splendido at age 18, learning to make dough for egg-yolk ravioli, pappardelle and capunti. At some restaurants, his brother worked front-of-house, and he now works in Montreal. Baldassarre moved to Italy at the age of 23, where he worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant before returning to Toronto to start his own business.
“I wanted a business built on two things,” he says in a recent interview with City Life. “The quality and pride of our work, and the quality of life outside of work. Great pasta and a great home life, and the standard food industry didn’t provide that.”
In 2010 he rented basement space on College Street and began his wholesale operation to create his pasta, quickly gaining a respected reputation and selling to his old haunt of Splendido as well as Nota Bene, Reds, Stock and eventually multiple Oliver & Bonacini locations. “I had a lot of contacts from working in the restaurant business, so I started making pasta and selling it to my old friends,” he recalls. Baldassarre quickly outgrew the basement.
In 2017 he chose a location at 122 Geary Ave. and did his due diligence with the city about required licenses to both manufacture and serve his pasta, but when he applied for his food license, he was told the city’s previous information supplied to him was wrong. A 20-year-old bylaw prohibited eating establishments on Geary Avenue.
Undeterred, for months his pasta speakeasy continued to operate. Using Instagram’s Stories function (where posts disappear after 24 hours), he would share his daily menus among the “members” of the so-called Societa Pasta Baldassarre. It became one of Toronto’s best food secrets, and to this day Baldassarre remains connected to his customers through social media.
But armed with passion and logic about the reality of modern Toronto, he fought city hall and won. Clearly not a secret anymore, customers can dine in the small front space or take meals to go, and menus offer wholesale fresh pasta, beverages and gelato from Bar Ape Gelato, another proud, self-made entrepreneur. They also offer fresh daily pasta lunches served Wednesday to Friday, all true to Baldassarre’s passion and his Italian traditions.
The first thing you notice about Baldassarre is his easy and relaxed smile; he’s clearly enjoying his work and is at home in his environment. His passion is almost palpable.
“Passion for the food is my No. 1 philosophy, and to compromise that was never an option,” he says. “There is a lot of cultural pride in this type of work, and I love it. Tradition is there for a reason. Tradition is faultless.”