Jane Stern: Love at first sight with Capri’s Cuisine

I loved Capri’s from the moment I walked in because the first thing I saw was a sign on the wall saying, “We do not have Wi-Fi, talk to each other.” My kind of place.

Capri’s is one of those great little finds that make you optimistic that the future of food is not just more Arby’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.

The cuisine here is from Argentina and Uruguay, two countries that seem to me very exotic and under represented in the world of food. What both of these countries specialize in is empanadas. Pretty much every country in the world has some food that is dough wrapped around a savory filling, and empanadas are South America’s contribution. If you have not had a good one, you are missing a major experience.

The menu at Capri’s reads as follows: breakfast empanadas, cheese empanadas, meat empanadas, chicken empanadas, veggie empanadas, mixed empanadas and sweet empanadas. I think it would be fair to say if you do not like empanadas, go elsewhere.

Capri’s Cuisine

170 Main St., Norwalk

I love empanadas and especially love them when they are lovingly handmade, and served by a charming counter man. The vibe at Capri’s is so friendly, you will not want to leave quickly, and nor are you forced to order fast and beat it. The empanadas are quite reasonably priced, medium in size. Each one is $2.45 and I found two made a full meal.

I think I ordered a dozen all told, some from each group on the menu except for the breakfast empanadas, as it was 3 p.m. and the idea of another egg was bleh.

I started my meal with the chicken empanadas. I ordered Chicken Chimi Churri and Argentinian Chicken with Eggs and Olives. Both were gently spiced and the dough wrapper was delicate and fresh. Chimi Churri is a popular South American salsa, used the way we Americans use ketchup. An all-purpose sauce that amplifies the taste. This Argentinian empanada was not spicy, but still a sophisticated melange of flavors. I would order either of these again (and again and again). But I had more empanadas to eat, so after taking only a few bites of the chicken empanadas, I moved on to those filled with beef.

My first one was filled with chopped steak, eggs, olives and raisins, an odd combination that reminded me of traditional mince meat. It is a unique combination, the raisins adding a subtle sweetness to the dish. Next I ordered a beef and potato empanada and felt I had somehow gone through the rabbit hole from Norwalk to Great Britain and was eating a pasty. Pasties (Welsh and British) are some of the original “hand pies,” in this case, dough wrapped around meat and potatoes and often parsnips. Miners took pasties with them when they went to work underground, they would heat them over an open fire on the blade of their shovels.

I was excited to move onto the cheese empanadas. I could live on cheese, one of my downfalls is brie and bleu and anything that oozes when at room temperature. As a kid, a grilled cheese sandwich was for me what McNuggets are for modern kids: my safe haven.

Capri makes wonderful cheese empanadas much more sophisticated than I would have liked at age 7. Fortunately I am no longer 7, so I swooned over the Caprese (cheese, basil, and tomato), and quickly followed it with another one stuffed with chopped ham, cheese and corn niblets, a perfect and unusual combination.

The veggie empanadas would be a wonderful treat for anyone who shuns meat. In fact, this group, despite my own carnivore leanings, was my favorite. I did not miss meat at all when I tried the empanada stuffed with Portobello mushrooms, onions, fresh herbs and three cheeses. This seems a lot of ingredients to stuff into a small empanada, but it works perfectly. There is a similar one made with spinach but leaving out the cheese. I am not sure if it is truly vegan but it is a close approximation. I also adored the rice and black bean empanada, which was very filling and peasant-like in its rough simplicity.

Then onward to the “Mixed Empanada Category.” I was surprised how good the BBQ Pulled Pork was. Of course this dish depends only on the quality of the BBQ meat, and in this case was quite good. I would highly recommend the empanada stuffed with spicy Argentinian Chorizo sausage, or the one with Chimi Churri and cheese. There is also a great one stuffed with Chorizo and potatoes; it is plain and delicious. The elemental combination of spicy and smooth elevates the whole thing.

I always leave room for dessert and Capri’s it was no different. I was shocked at how delicious the sweet empanadas were. Why were they not sold everywhere in gas stations and on the corner at 7-Eleven? My knees weakened with the first taste of Guava and Cream Cheese empanada, again a contrast of juicy sweet fruit and palate-soothing cream cheese.

Dulche de Leche is now a common flavoring, but here it sings when stuffed in an empanada with banana and cream cheese. Like Dulche de Leche, the hazelnut spread Nutella has made quit a splash for itself. At Capri’s, try the Banatella, an empanada stuffed with Nutella, chocolate and banana. This is a dish I can imagine Elvis going mad for. Truly food fit for a king. Even if you miss wifi, I suspect you will be too busy eating for it to make much of a difference.

I also suggest doing as I did, take some empanadas home. They are sturdy little things and keep well in the fridge.

Jane Stern is co-author of the long-running Roadfood series.