À la familia

Capparelli's on Main maintains a family tradition

Release Date: 2002-03-13

It was a busy Friday night at Capparelli's, and our waiter looked slammed. He ordered a passing host to go downstairs, run food for a few of his tables, and gather extra utensils for the napkins he was rolling. The young host just stood there, looking a bit perplexed, and explained in broken English that he wasn't sure what the waiter wanted. Loudly repeating the orders, the frustrated waiter explained that he was too busy to go downstairs himself. Blushing, the host again explained that he didn't understand, but offered to help with the napkins. With disheveled hair pasted to his sweaty forehead, the waiter angrily looked up at the host, inches from his face, and yelled the commands yet again, as if shouting would make his co-worker suddenly comprehend English. Everyone within earshot of the wait station (about five tables) stared in disbelief, as the embarrassed host marched downstairs, mumbling to himself in Spanish.

Our angry, red-faced server smoothed his hair, took the few steps over to our table, and asked how we were doing this evening. By that point, I was too shocked and upset to even speak to this man, much less remember my order. So my dinner companion shot me a don't-start-trouble look and ordered the customary spaghetti ($7.65) and the lasagna, "Grandma Capparelli's specialty" ($9.50). The spaghetti came with a choice of marinara, butter and garlic, or olive oil and garlic. I wanted my sauce red and spicy, and was assured the cooks made it zesty enough already.

The complimentary salad, with its perfect house dressing, and buttery garlic bread were enough to calm my nerves and nearly fill my stomach. Alas, there was still room to finish half of my large portion of spaghetti with Italian sausage. The sausage was decent, but the sauce was exactly what I wanted: chunks of garlic, tasty tomatoes, and savory spices, all hot enough to warrant three refills of water. While I'm not a huge fan of restaurant lasagna (because it's usually re-heated), Grandma Capparelli's concoction — a tall stack of meatballs, sausage, mushrooms, and cheese — was better than most. You could actually taste the mozzarella and ricotta, which indicated it was not the typical frozen entrée zapped in the microwave.

A couple of selections from the better-than-decent wine list made me completely forget about the night's earlier little nasty incident. I was able to sit back and enjoy the dining atmosphere: soft lighting, spacious setting, slow eating, and light conversation, complimented by the unobtrusive live jazz music humming downstairs. The treat for upstairs diners is an impressive cast of Italian movie characters, painted on a wall-sized mural by local artists Kerry Ferguson and Jesse Flores.

Owner Gay Capparelli, 35, said she used to wait on Flores and Ferguson for about 15 years, when her family's restaurant was still located on Nacogdoches Road. After serving home-cooked Italian food there for 30 years, they closed the doors when the building was condemned. But the very next day, Capparelli's on Broadway opened and is still run by Gay's father. She is now the sole owner of Capparelli's on Main (which opened May 1, 2001), and she thought it appropriate to ask some of her most faith-ful patrons to add their art to the new establishment.

Gay Capparelli's gracious attitude and the restaurant's fine food made me return for more, this time to sample the highly affordable lunch specials (most under six bucks), which are perfect not only for the penny pincher but also the late luncher. Midday meals are served Monday through Friday from 11am to 4pm. Although the pasta specials are a steal, the real must-try is the sandwich combo ($5.25), with salad, tea, and a choice of meatball, sausage, or "sloppy" sandwich. This is no sloppy joe of school cafeterias; it's an open-face Italian roll smothered with marinara and mozzarella and topped with delectable ingredients like mushrooms, black olives, pepperonis, or Canadian bacon. The "supreme" version of this pizza-style sandwich is appropriately named the "Super Sloppy Texan."

Surprisingly, the restaurant's atmosphere is just as pleasant during the day as it is by night. The large windows invite enough sunlight to make overhead lights unnecessary, and the veranda is too quaint to pass up now that the weather is warmer.

As luck would have it, I got the same waiter during my lunch trip. He seemed calm and cordial and promptly took our orders. But just as I was ready to bask in sunshine and a sloppy sandwich, he brought our table a basket of burned bread. This is one place where the food definitely outshines the service.

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