If there's one thing you can say about Tony Gemignani, pizza champ and owner of Capo's and nearby Tony's Pizza Napoletana, is that the guy knows how to entertain. From his dough whirling days on the pizza competition circuit, to his ability to articulate regional styles of pizza pies into ideal studies in cheese and crust, it's no wonder he manages to stand out in a pizza-saturated town. At Tony's Pizza Napoletana, it's largely his food and iconic North Beach location that set the mood, but at Capo's, it's the decor, retro dishes, and whiskey cocktails that generate the atmosphere of a Mafioso red sauce Italian joint from Chicago.
The charm of the art-deco bar, tin ceiling, and huge, plush, bright red booths make cocktails like the Chicago Cocktail ($12, Courvoisier VS Cognac, Cointreau, Col de Salici Prosecco, Angostura Bitters) a fitting start to a meal. The classic drink from the Savoy Cocktail book published during Prohibition is symbolically and setting appropriate. Order it with the Quattro Forni (which should really be renamed "Quattro For Me"), and you have a meal fit for a Don.
Bar manager Elmer Mejicanos has a hair-trigger when it comes to stocking whiskies, so if you have a particular weakness for it, be warned. The backbar strains after being riddled with over 100 different bottles, from American bourbons and ryes to Scotch and Japanese whisky. The cocktails show the same streak, the Wise Guy ($12, Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey, fresh lemon, cracked white pepper, orange marmalade, agave nectar, fresh oregano) in particular working it's way to the top of our ranks. The mix of ingredients may seem unusual, but the combination of oregano and marmalade gives the rye whiskey a spotlight on the vanilla compounds of the oak, rather than the spice and bite. It is lightly herbal, floral, and not too sweet, pairing remarkably well with the pies.
Using a house made marmalade is the key according to Mejicanos, who said that his version is, "really citrusy yet not too sweet, and its thick texture really makes the drink silky." The oregano came as a way to tie together the food and the drink, but also to tame the citrus. Thankfully the fresh oregano garnish won't ambush you with a rat-tat-tat of herbal fragrance, but instead gives a floral lift with each sip.
Even if you're more gangnam than gangster there's a cocktail you won't refuse waiting for you at Capo's
2 oz. Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
¾ oz. agave syrup
1 teaspoon orange marmalade
Pinch fresh cracked pepper
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a glass with one large ice cube. Garnish with fresh oregano.
Capo's, 641 Vallejo (at Stockton), 986-8998