Old Chicago deep dish. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
You’ll start your meal with a bowl of “pasta fagioli.” Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Baked artichokes (see, there are two in there). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Old Chicago, stuffed. Photo courtesy of Capo’s.
The dining area (with seven tons of brick wall). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The big booths (with a custom bench addition) and the phone booth in the back. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Capo’s exterior (you can’t miss it at night). Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Are you a cheese slut? You a bona fide fan of tomato sauce? Does pizza turn your fricking crank? Then I certainly hope you have gotten your culo to ~CAPO’S~ by now. Anyone who loves pizza in SF (and beyond) knows the name Tony Gemignani well, and I, for one, am happy to see this pizza obsessive tackle a sleepy block in North Beach that needed some neon lights.
The guy lives for pizza, in all its incarnations. Which is why he understood that in order to do justice to Chicago-style pizza, he was going to open a stand-alone spot. Deep-dish pizza takes awhile to bake, so the timing is not like your usual restaurant. Keep that in mind when you come to Capo’s, which only takes reservations for parties of six or more (plus there’s a huuuuge table in the front of the dining room if you have a posse and want to throw a pizza partay).
On a busy Friday night, my friend and I put our names down, scooted over to Tosca for a cocktail, and got our phone call at the end of our first Negroni. Perfetto. So there can be a wait, and sometimes it’s not so bad. If you’re starving and know you just want pizza, you can even place your order when you put your name down so your pie is ready for you soon after you sit down.
The joint is old to the school, from the pressed tin ceiling to the brick walls to the dim lighting to the oxblood tufted booths. Ditto the music and the vintage National cash register (order a Chicago cocktail to hear it ring) and the dishes on the menu. You’ll be served a shiny silver bowl of pasta fagioli, which is very different than how my family does it, but here it’s basically a kicky chicken broth with some beans, veg, and overcooked elbow pasta in it. You’ll eat every drop.
Now, don’t forget why you’re here. You’re here to eat pizza, right? But if you want to go the antipasti route, I’d say order the crisp and cool Caesar ($7) with white anchovies (although I wish the staff would automatically come over with a big-ass pepper grinder), and the wood-fired clams casino ($12) are also damn tasty. Mmm, bacon. I have never had clams casino all jumbled in a bowl like this, but whatever, you can watch yourself start filling up on bread as you dunk it in the white wine and garlicky juice.
Fearlessly hungry? Then you have to go for the baked artichoke ($13.50), which is basically a gooey lake of provolone cream and spinach topped with a couple tender artichoke hearts (and a bit of red pepper sprinkled on top). Watch your monkey brain get ignited as you clear the bowl with the little toasts. Now is when you hear that voice getting louder in the back of your head: “You are filling up. You are gonna pop a flat.” Which is why you should skip the pastas. Well, I will. I tried the wood-fired mostaccioli in meat sauce ($16), and the pasta was falling apart, the sauce loaded with big pieces of underdone garlic. For me, it wasn’t worth giving up my stomach’s precious real estate.
One of the best deals on the menu is the side of three meatballs for $5. They’re made with beef and pork and cream and are just fantastic. (Which is why I’d consider the spaghetti and meatballs, $16.) And if pizza isn’t your thing, you can do some chicken Marsala ($20) with mushrooms, but this is a dish I could easily make at home. But the deep-dish pizza? No, I can’t. Not even close. Which is why I say get the goddamn pizza.
There are four traditional Chicago styles you’ll see: cracker-thin crust (it doesn’t have any fat in it and is served in squares), deep dish, stuffed (which is like deep dish but comes with a partial lid of dough and sauce on top), and cast-iron (the crust is cooked in lard). The deep dish is where it’s at. Tony’s using Ceresota flour (no one else can get it out here), and it has one hell of a crust—it’s the perfect thickness.
So here’s the breakdown. If it’s your first ride, get the Old Chicago ($27). It’s a gorgeous pizza: The tomato sauce is so thick and reduced and herby, there’s a motherlode of provolone and mozzarella (I’m talking cheese-o-rama, people) plus some knobs of ricotta on top, and the Chicago Italian sausage and little meatballs in it make it like the meatball sub sandwich/deep-dish pizza mash-up of your dreams. The flavor and layers of this pizza are just heaven. Mamma mia.
In a similar Franken-sandwich-pizza vein, the Italian Stallion is kind of fun, because you can get Italian beef with horseradish cream sauce and sweet peppers, and Italian sausage for good measure.
Otherwise, stick with the classic combos, like the Frank Nitti (tomato sauce, mozzarella, provolone, spinach, ricotta, romano, oregano, garlic). I had higher hopes from the Snap E. Tom (I was warned it was spicy, but it wasn’t.)
You will definitely eat one slice. Two, you are pushing it, buddy. I hope you have a hollow leg. Either way, you will have leftovers for days, and love every single bite.
A few more things: the joint is cash only. I know, it’s a pain. But there’s an ATM in the back in case you forget. There’s also a phone booth where you can make calls for free, kind of fun.
You should try the barrel-aged Made Man if you want a cocktail to start (there’s a ton of whiskey on those shelves, have at it). There are a number of affordable and pizza-friendly Italian red wines on the list—I was given some good tips on a couple of them, but both times I needed the wine chilled a bit. I also laughed how one well-intentioned server kept filling my wine glass to the top. Uh, grazie. So yeah, there are some service hiccups. (For more on the wine, see Alan Goldfarb’s wino piece here.)
You can do takeout if you don’t want to deal—and this is the kind of pizza that holds up. We had a huge timing fail with our meal one night—but it appears the kitchen is working that out. You can swing by for lunch Fri-Sun to order off a limited menu, FYI. In the evening, there’s valet parking, so you don’t have to bitch about how bad the parking is in North Beach. And no matter what, you will walk out of there, assuredly, saying how full you are.