So, here’s the thing: I spent a year and a half as a missionary living in Southern Italy, and that means I ate a lot of good food. Like, a lot. From street vendors, small shops and restaurants, but mainly in the homes of Italian families, eating homemade Italian meals. You tell yourself when you go to Italy that you won’t come back a pasta snob…but you do.
That’s not to say good Italian food doesn’t exist in Utah. The most delicious of these restaurants, though, are usually more upscale—fancy ingredients, complex recipes and, most notably, high prices. I’ve been missing the simple goodness of homemade Italian pasta.
I finally found it.
Màstra Italian Bakery and Bistro is owned by Jonathan Cagnacci, a born-and-raised Italian man who has brought his talents as a chef and professional baker to Utah. Growing up in Genova (known as “Genoa” in English), Cagnacci says he has always been a foodie. “When I was just two years old, I was waking up in the middle of the night and walking around home, just looking for food. Sometimes my mom found me in the morning under the kitchen table, sleeping with a piece of bread in my hand,” Cagnacci says. “I just love food.”
As a teenager, he started working in a bakery in Genova. He later married and moved with his wife to Rome, but, to find opportunity outside of a struggling Italian economy, the couple made the move to Utah in the mid-2010s.
In 2016, Cagnacci and his wife started selling homemade focaccia and tiramisu at local farmer’s markets. As their traditional Italian fare grew more popular each season, it felt only natural to open a restaurant. In January 2021, the couple opened Màstra in American Fork.
Cagnacci designed and remodeled the interiors of Màstra’s strip mall location, even building the tables himself. The atmosphere is bright, clean and casually comfortable—broad corner windows spill sunlight onto the light-colored furniture and décor while a blend of classic and modern Italian music plays on the overhead speakers. Ephemera illustrates the story of Cagnacci and his love of Italian culture: a traditional stone mill sits by the entrance; the walls feature a map of the Liguria region in Northern Italy and Italian art depicting the history and techniques of baking; nearby, pizza stones hang on the wall, which Cagnacci used to bake his first loaves of bread in the Beehive State.
Màstra’s menu maps Cagnacci’s family heritage with dishes representing various Italian regions. The lasagna al pesto, pesto Genovese and salsa di noci (walnut sauce) are Genovese in origin. The cacio e pepe and the carbonara speak to his wife’s Roman heritage. The lasagna al ragu is inspired by his grandmother, who hails from Emilia-Romagna. The menu includes both regular mainstays and new dishes. “I like to change so that people can have a different experience every time,” Cagnacci says. The carbonara is the crowd favorite, and diners particularly love Màstra’s pasta. They make the noodles from scratch in-house with their pasta machine from Italy, which can make 10 different pasta shapes.
Cagnacci uses a mix of ingredients sourced locally and from his homeland. Lehi Mills provides flour, and some vegetables come from Pleasant Grove’s Snuck Farm. Cagnacci spent months finding the right basil to refine the pesto. “All the scratch ingredients I can find local, I buy local. Otherwise, stuff like prosciutto or Parmigiano, you just need to import it,” he says.
To begin the meal, tables are set with baskets of fresh and light, crusty Italian bread, with olive oil and a flavorful balsamic vinegar from Modena for dipping. On Cagnacci’s recommendation, I ordered the lasagna al pesto, which is not a dish you commonly find in Utah. It may look a little sloppy, but that means it’s real—lasagna in Italy isn’t neatly stacked in wavy layers like we find it here. Mástra’s version has six-plus layers of pasta with a delicious medley of pesto, besciamella sauce and melted cheeses. For dessert, try the sweet and smooth panna cotta, freshly made in-house and topped with a tangy blueberry sauce.
With authentic, filling pasta dishes for about $10, Cagnacci says he has had customers tell him he could charge more for the food, but he keeps the prices at what he thinks is fair while still making a profit. Maybe it’s a little “controcorrente,” or “against the current,” as he says, but he doesn’t care. Cagnacci says he created Mástra “to share his culture and to offer people the real Italian experience for the right price.”
“I love this place,” Cagnacci says. “I designed it and built it myself, so when I have people coming here, I feel like I’m having friends coming for dinner.”
IF YOU GO
476 N. 900 W St., Ste. D, American Fork