Food & Drink Grandma's ever-lovin' lasagna

Capparelli’s piles on the Italian-American fare

The Capparelli family has been plying San Antonians with its brand of Italian-American food since Gaetano and Rose Capparelli established a toehold on W.W. White in 1963. Founding a family tradition, they went on to open two more outlets, and each succeeding generation followed suit until, today, there are eight Capparelli’s restaurants, including two that are franchised to friends.

Gaetano and Rose Capparelli, whose wedding picture presides over the dining area in the picture above, would have been pleased to see such a lunch crowd at Capparelli’s on Main, now owned by their grandaughter Gay Capparelli. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

The Main Avenue outlet, run by Gay Capparelli, granddaughter of Gaetano and Rose, shares some dishes in common with the others, but offers a larger, more “upscale” menu that features a broader selection of seafood. The interior is also upscale, with a mural of Italian illuminati adorning the upstairs loft, and a brooding black-and-gray portrait of Al Pacino downstairs that contrasts tellingly with a sweet, painted-from-a-photo rendering of the grandparents as newlyweds. A stamped tin ceiling and exposed brick walls further frame dining families of every age, many of whom seem to know one another.

Though the restaurant has been at this Monte Vista location since 2001, it now appears to play the role of anchor for the newly minted Windows on Main commercial development of an existing building next door. Architecturally, Windows owner Cecilia Garcia (also Capparelli’s landlord) has taken a sensitive approach to the renovation by respecting old detailing while giving the storefronts a fresh, new look. So far, a sign on the building advertises that tenants will include Justin’s Ice Cream — replaced by Saltgrass Steakhouse on the River Walk — and locally owned Cardell Cabinets. Capparelli’s may lack the visual freshness of the Windows operation, but with its old world feel, it nonetheless looks stable and serious enough to hold up its part of the bargain, especially once improvements to the tiny outdoor patio are completed.

However, the restaurant may need to rethink the freshness of its recipes. The tomato-bread appetizer I tried was much more food than one person needs to consume, and had much less flavor than one might expect. Served on house-baked garlic bread, it may be modeled after a traditional Italian bruschetta, but, if so, the resemblance is barely skin deep: Sliced romas and lots of melted cheese are the primary ingredients and neither taste like much — even the garlic’s punch was weak.

Current critic Ron Bechtol liked the gutsy flavor of Grandma Capparelli’s lasagna, at left, and its texture, provided by melted cheese and fine-grained ricotta.

A large quantity of sliced, toasted bread accompanies an appetizer of button mushrooms sautéed in white wine, butter, and olive oil, and though the herb-sprinkled mushrooms reveal the abundant earthy fifth taste, umami, it’s a mystery as to how the bread is supposed to be used. Round mushrooms and flat toast are structurally incompatible; many a mushroom ended up on the tablecloth.

With a glass of breakfast-ready Drylands New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in hand (I might was well have been drinking grapefruit juice), I next tackled the house pesto served with farfalle and grilled chicken. Although the chicken was tender, I extracted it from the excessively oily pesto after just a few bites. It’s hard to imagine anyone finishing this generous dish; the pine nuts, sprinkled on top of the dish rather than incorporated into the sauce as is sometimes the case, did little to mellow the sauce’s intensely herbal flavor.

Dessert, however, was pleasingly mellow. A good tiramisu is hard to find in this town, but Capparelli’s provides a seductive model with plenty of intense espresso flavor to play against the cocoa, chocolate and cream (as it happens, the dessert is produced by a major food purveyor).

Capparelli’s on Main

2524 N. Main
11am-10pm Mon-Thu,
11am-11pm Fri,
11am-1pm Sat
Credit cards
Price range (Dinner): $9-$15
Wheelchair accessible

Service on that first visit was exemplary, with the waitress especially attuned to the pacing of the meal. On my second foray, my very professional waiter, though less personal, was among the best in his profession. Amusingly (and tellingly) he brought a plate of olive oil with balsamic vinegar with the guileless garlic bread. He also offered to bring the house vinaigrette on the side for the fresh house salad, a standard mix with romaine, more unripe romas, some spinach ... and those dastardly dark California olives. And he suggested butter and garlic over the routine red sauce covering the spaghetti that accompanied my veal piccata. Here we may have parted company: The mountainous serving of pasta dwarfed the slices of veal and was acrid with garlic, which tasted like the pre-chopped, in-a-jar variety. Two bites, over and out. The scallopini alternating between tough and tender, I finished, finding the tart, lemon cream sauce with its scattering of capers an acceptable rendition of the classic dish.

I took two dishes to go, and tried them in the comfort of my own home: lasagna (Grandma Capparelli’s specialty) and pizza. I don’t fancy Italian crooners nor Rat Packers, but otherwise I think my dining room stood up well — and so did the reheated lasagna. The serving was small for the price, but the flavors, including unexpected mushrooms and sliced meatballs, were big. I liked Grandma’s gutsy tomato sauce, the texture of the melted cheese and fine-grained ricotta, and even the ratio of filling to pasta. Initially, I wasn’t as fond of the demi-deep-dish pizza, not being a fan of thick, bready crusts, but the loaded Supreme, with every available meat and sausage (minus the optional anchovies and jalapeños the waiter failed to offer and I failed to specify), plus olives and onion, turned out to be totally true to the kitchen-sink, Italian-American model. Why be shy? Have it all. Grandma would surely approve.

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