Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Capri in Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock is inhabited by a wide variety of ethnicities and socioeconomic groups, but it is best known as an eclectic gathering of hipsters and the creative class. Eagle Rock is known for its bohemian vibe, mix of class levels, and neighborhood feel.

A core of counter-culture writers, artists and filmmakers has existed in the town since the 1920s and is being supplemented by the recent influx of hipsters. The town was well known during the late '50s, '60s and '70s for its sizable hot rodder culture, which is now almost defunct.

From the Wikipedia entry on Eagle Rock

Vegetarian pizza.

How did I know that The Capri was objectively the motherflippin' bomb, besides my own immediate, gushing love for the place? My French friend, who is now in NY (peace out homme!), offered it the highest praise possible, for him: "It's very good, for what it is."

Birra Moretti available on tap, and in pitchers.

And what is it? A hermetically sealed time capsule of a time when Eagle Rock was about hot rodders, teens with Lucky Strike boxes rolled up under their white t-shirt sleeves, their hair slicked back, when contraception was contraband. A beer-and-pizza hangout run by middle-aged, red-haired twins, one jovial, and one less so. In short, sort of like AMERICAN GRAFFITI meets TWIN PEAKS.

Let me just spill it: this is one my new favorite places in Eagle Rock. The pizza is probably better than the pizza at Casa Bianca and Brownstone, the better known places up on easily accessible, mainstream Colorado Boulevard. The Capri, in contrast, is pretty much on the downlow, a blast-from-the-past interior of green booths, red checkerboard tablecloths, Italian and American flags, and portraits of Occidental College football teams of yesteryear, all hidden behind a complicated metal facade facing Eagle Rock Boulevard. (There were no pictures of Oxy's JV basketball teams from the past -- if there had been, we might have looked for a picture of our 44th president in Tiger orange, kneeling with a hand on a basketball.)

Beef lasagna

The Capri is that mystery place next door to Auntie Em's that's not open when you're at Auntie Em's for brunch that you've always been sort of curious about but never remembered to try.

There are odd touches all around. During my visit, I was fixated on one black and white picture of the twins, as young teens, it appeared, standing and apparently yelling at someone sitting in a chair. Other pictures showed them with minor L.A. celebrities. As we were admiring some of these photos, one of the twins (I couldn't tell them apart) called out to us: "I'm the good-looking one."

Obama in the California sunshine at Occidental College in the eighties. He probably had some good times at The Capri. His future was so bright, I wonder if he wore these sunglasses at night.

I had the vegetarian pizza (onions, mushrooms, olives [sans bell peppers, per the request of my good friend Col. Mortimer] plus garlic) and it was delicious. The crust was neither thin nor thick, but medium. And during my visit, it tasted and felt just right. The other people at the table had shrimp scampi (reported to be tasty), beef lasagna (ditto), and baked ziti (ditto, from my picky French friend).

In a sign of the times, and a nod to the inexorably changing nature of the neighborhood, the beer on tap (and available in pitchers) is no longer Budweiser (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!), but the delicious Birra Moretti (Viva Italia!).

The twins on a sign in front of the restaurant. They weren't wearing shorts or tossing pizzas when we visited.

It was the last weekend in L.A. for my French friend, and his first time to The Capri. No doubt, he was feeling some advance nostalgia for our fair city. I could see why The Capri made an impression on him. The Capri is a place that oozes nostalgia. It's that idyllic, archetypal All-American hangout: the guys drive their '57 T-bird over, hang out with a few pitchers of, um, birra, and a few pepperoni pies, and celebrate the bracing Californian pursuit of happiness. (Sadly, there would probably be a drag race on Colorado involved sometime afterward.) It's probably the kind of place the guys over at Tritch Hardware used to hang out at when they were young.

Baked ziti

It's a place unspoilt by modishness or current fashions (putting aside the birra), untouched by the marauding hordes working their way down Jonathan Gold's 99 list.

But it's not just a super old-school nostalgia this place invokes. It reminds me of Friday nights in Connecticut, when my mom would take my brother and me to the pizza place next to our barber shop before my dad got home. We would get root beers and pizza with onions and mushrooms. It was a delicious reward for making it through another week of social studies, long division, hallway bullying, and soccer tryouts. It was Friday night in America, and we were free to do whatever we wanted. My mom would drive us through the town, playing Hindi music loud on the Caprice Classic's stereo, on the way to the pizza place.

And that's what I remembered, as I took my first bite of the pizza at The Capri: my own American youth. It's a place you'll want to come back to.


badassdadblog said...

For me, the Capri has always been exactly as you describe it ... "that mystery place next door to Auntie Em's that's not open when you're at Auntie Em's for brunch that you've always been sort of curious about but never remembered to try." On your recommendation, I must now remember to try it. It also always struck me as something of a dive. But perhaps that's part of its appeal.

Word I have to type to prove I'm not a robot: trompo. Sounds vaguely Italian, like the bira.

johng said...

Your reviews rock, dude.

Anonymous said...

this place looks great!

David said...

I will take your word for it, but that pizza looks dodgy.

In any event, your friend Mortimer has excellent taste in movies.

Looking forward to visiting some of these places with y'all next time we visit Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat OT, but the key at Casa is to order either eggplant or sausage as one ingredient. That's their edge.

badassdadblog said...

I agree with Anonymous. Our usual from Casa Bianca is sausage, eggplant, tomato, and broccoli. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

I used to have to attend meetings at the Capri and man the food was pretty poor. My nephew was served putrid chicken on a pizza one time, it was spoiled bad. Back then there was a big bruiser of a blond waitress, she had a sense of humor but was a real bitch if you had comments on a problem with the crappy food.
Gordon Ramsay raided the place last week and it will be on Kitchen Nightmares soon. I would like to see how much he changed it, anything would be better.