July 10, 2020

Detroit Pizza Gets A Home In SF: Capo’s Is Recast

by Joe Bonadio

In these strange times we now inhabit, more and more I’ve been looking to food for refuge. And not just the eating part, mind you. All of it: the shopping, the searching, the cooking, the exploring. It’s as if the less eventful my days are, the more curious my palate becomes. I’m cooking and eating things I’ve never been interested in before, and learning more about food than I ever have in my life.

One lesson I’ve fully absorbed: You should never hesitate to tweak a favorite recipe, no matter how revered. It’s more of a lesson unlearned, really. ‘Never Screw With The Classics’ might be the one I’m thinking of. Don’t get me wrong, faithfully reproducing a recipe is an important part of cooking–but
experimentation is what gave us those wonderful recipes in the first place. If you want something new, you’ve got to mess with the formula.

Someone who knows all about that process is Tony Gemignani. Ever since he first opened Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco back in 2009, Tony has continually tweaked and expanded that menu—to the point where it bears little resemblance to the menu the restaurant opened with.

Capo’s starting lineup: Baked Burrata Boat, Broccolini and Calabrese Fries. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

At Capo’s, Tony’s paean to pan pizza (also in SF’s North Beach), the pizzaiolo has essentially done the same thing. But this time, he’s done it a lot faster. Business changed radically after Covid kicked in—and as fate would have it, Detroit-style pizza officially went ballistic. So in the time it takes for you to say lockdown, Tony created a brand-new menu and concept for Capo’s, incorporating Detroit pizza into the Chicago-centric lineup.

I wrote about the revamped Capo’s in our previous post after my visit on opening night a few weeks back. Now that I’ve had the chance to circle back and further explore the menu, it’s time to talk about the food.

First off, the elephant in the room. Yes, you heard it right: Tony Gemignani is making pineapple pizza. If that bothers you, I will remind you that this is California, where the whole anything-goes ethos of pizzamaking was born. Starting way back in 1980, Alice Waters at Chez Panisse, Ed LaDou at Spago and a bunch of other West Coast chefs fought to make the world safe for weird pizza. So chill out—and trust the experts.

Conversation Pizza: The Hawaiian Hit Man stirs things up at Capo’s in SF. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

As you might expect, Tony pulled out all the stops for his pineapple pie, which he dubbed the Hawaiian Hit Man. Along with pineapple rings, this pizza boasts three kinds of pork: honey bacon, smoked ham and Prosciutto di Parma. Frankly, it’s unlike any Hawaiian pizza I’ve had before, and far better. The sweetness of the pineapple is more than balanced by the salt and smoke of the pork, so make no mistake—this is a savory pie. I’ll order it again.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself here. You’re supposed to start with the starters, right? And the Capo’s menu has starters aplenty, with much more of an emphasis on smaller plates than before. Fully eighteen dishes populate this section of the menu, with a range of options for vegetarians and carnivores alike.

The pan-fried broccolini is simple and cooked just the way I like it, with plenty of garlic and just a touch of chile heat. Likewise the tasty eggplant caponata, served on three crostini, the perfect size for a snack with a cocktail or glass of wine. The baked burrata boat is a little more substantial, served with ‘sunbathed’ tomato and plenty of Capo’s intense house pesto.

A couple of my favorite starters from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana also show up here: the fried squash blossoms are always fantastic, as are the meatballs, which would be memorable on any menu. Having to choose between these two items is painful, so I recommend ordering both.

There are a lot of small plates I haven’t yet tried, but already have my eye on for next time. The nduja crostini with anchovies sounds divine, and I’m also psyched to try the baked artichokes in spinach and provolone cream (whoa!) as well as the string bean fritti.

It’s got ranch on it: the Tony Jack in all its glory. | Photo: Joe Bonadio

Meanwhile, when pizza time came around, I knew exactly what I wanted. Tony had described it to me weeks earlier—the pie that blew away his entire staff at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. The one with ranch dressing on it. The Tony Jack.

Now, I’m a very open-minded eater. But I’ll admit, on paper, this pizza sounded like an abomination. First off, I don’t much like Ranch dressing, and there isn’t anything Italian about it. But I trust Tony’s instincts in the kitchen. And if his crew loved this pizza, then I was damn sure going to try it.

The Tony Jack is a white pie, meaning no tomato sauce, and it’s a pretty simple affair: honey bacon, green onions, sweet peppadew peppers, and of course the aforementioned ranch dressing. To pay homage to Capo’s new concept, we tried it on a Detroit.

And let me tell you something. This pie is absolutely delicious. It’s truly the best use of ranch dressing you could have ever dreamed up. Every topping contributes to the flavor, which is kind of like a mashup of a pizza with a loaded baked potato. But that description doesn’t quite do it justice, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself.

There’s no better time than the present. In fact, tomorrow (Saturday) Capo’s is hosting a special event: starting at 4:30, when you buy any Detroit pizza or $35 gift certificate, you’ll receive a signed limited edition print by Jeremy Fish. There are only 100 of these puppies, so don’t miss out.

The new Capo’s is off to a great start, and personally, I can’t wait for another run at this menu. Next time out, I’m gunning for Big Joe Zerilli and Sam Giancana.* See you in the neighborhood!


*Note: these are pizzas.