Comfort Italian with an American twist
Coming up to their fifth birthday in September, Capitano may not be the latest addition to the Carlton area, but it has certainly proven itself to be at the centre of it.
Owners Manu Potoi and Casey Wall (also behind Bar Liberty, Falco Bakery and Above Board) have been bringing authentic-ish Italian food to the Rathdowne strip since 2018, reinventing classic Italian dishes with American flavour combinations inspired by food from Mr Wall’s hometown in the States.
Despite its popularity, Capitano still feels like the cosy, neighbourhood spot it has always sought to be. Assistant venue manager Alex McMaster says the “good food and relaxed style of service” is what helps the space retain its original charm.
“I often have customers come up to saying that this seems like a fun place to work and that they enjoy getting to hang out with the staff,” Mr McMaster said. “It’s great to see the community connecting with each other in that way.”
Although Capitano is famously known for their Detroit-style square pizzas and iconic vodka pasta, Inner City News can confirm that the regularly rotating menu has more to offer Carlton locals in addition to the classics.
Chef consultant and fermentation specialist Caitlin Koether brings a wealth of food preservation knowledge to the kitchen, focusing on “hyper-seasonality” in collaboration with four different farms across Victoria, including; Remi’s Patch, Day’s Walk Farm, Somerset Farm and Plenty Valley Produce.
“We definitely are an Italian-ish restaurant, but the menu over the past year has evolved far beyond that,” Ms Koether said.
We are one of the restaurants that work closely alongside farms as a catalyst for growth in restaurants and in food.
Ms Koether’s expertise in food preservation has elevated the menu at Capitano to showcase both what’s in season and in their larder as a way of minimising food wastage.
A current favourite, a twist on a classic aglio e olio is an innovative example of what the Capitano team can do.
“During the summer, I anticipated a lack of produce in the winter so we thought of an idea for a dish with a pine nut condiment,” Ms Koether told Inner City News. “We made a pine nut miso that aged for three months before we figured out the best way to implement it on the menu.”
The end result became a creamy, garlic and olive oil-based pasta sauce made with the pine nut miso, then finished with a generous sprinkle of rye pangrattato and dried Kalamata olives.
“Its definitely a full team effort to make as much in-house as we can manage, but also in the creative scope of writing the menu,” Ms Koether said. “It wouldn’t be as successful if it didn’t have the influence of everybody as a team coming up with ideas and executing them.”
For Carlton ‘za-lovers, the Big Cap square has been wildly popular among customers, inspired by Mr Potoi and Mr Wall’s first hospitality pursuit together at much-loved Smith St burger spot; Rockwell & Sons.
A spring onion cream cheese forms the base of the pizza, which is then cooked with braised beef cheek and finished off with pickled banana peppers (from Somerset Farm), cos lettuce and, of course; the famous Rockwell burger sauce.
The drinks list is equally impressive, with specials such as the Gary’s Bicycle cocktail making its way onto the menu.
A blend between a Garibaldi and a Bicicletta, this drink uses Select Aperitivo, Cocchi Americano, orange juice, orange peel, verjuice and tonic to create a refreshing Italian highball.
When asked how the Carlton community has supported the business over the years, Mr McMaster said that Capitano’s neighbours have been nothing but “overly supportive”.
“It’s been great to see the growth in the community - from Tanaka growing in size to Fenton, and the recent addition of Bar Bellamy,” Mr McMaster said. “I reckon we have the best locals around too!”
Capitano’s fifth birthday will be held on September 24, and the team is looking forward to celebrating this exciting milestone with the Carlton community.
“We’d love to celebrate with everyone - I hear the team is thinking up a very special milk punch cocktail just for the party,” Mr McMaster told Inner City News in an exclusive scoop.
Capitano is located at 421 Rathdowne St and is open from 5.30pm to 10pm on Wednesday through Friday, as well as from 12pm to 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. •
For more information: capitano.com.au