181101CAPRI

Jennifer Spangler, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this dish of mostaccioli salsiccia on a recent trip to Capri Restaurant in Rockford, Illinois. Smothered in red sauce, the dish featured sauteed mushrooms, fennel sausage and a blend of Italian seasonings.

ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS

After more years than I care to admit, I recently returned to an old favorite restaurant, Capri, which is a Rockford classic.

You can’t miss Capri in the heart of downtown Rockford with its glowing neon sign and heavenly aromas wafting from the kitchen. Capri has been around for ages, and it was our go-to place when my husband and I were dating. I remember coming home from boot camp, and as soon as we got off the bus, my dad treated us to pizza there. Many subsequent visits followed.

On a Sunday evening, I discovered a lot has changed—and yet the good things remain the same. There is ample parking, and you enter from the parking lot side. There are actually two entrances—one for take-out and one for the restaurant—and both were busy the night we visited.

As we walked in, there was a big window where we could see into the kitchen. We got a great view of the large pizza oven in action.

The ambiance is that of old-world Italy. Heavy, black wrought-iron chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and enormous murals of a bygone era adorn the walls. Decorated in a black and red theme, the restaurant’s atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

The main dining area is spacious, with tables and large padded booths easily capable of accommodating six people. Additionally, there are two smaller dining rooms and a newly renovated sit-down bar area.

We arrived around 6 p.m., and boy, was it packed. Little did we know a famous rock band was performing at a theater just down the street.

We had a 30-minute wait, so we decided to make the most of our time and stroll around the neighborhood. On the street side, there are so many urbane shops and bars that we were tempted to step into one for a quick drink. We restrained ourselves, however, and got back to Capri just as our name was called.

We were seated in a roomy booth and settled in for an Italian feast. Everyone agreed on the caprese salad ($6.75) and baked goat cheese ($5.75) as our antipasto course. Homemade marinara topped with goat cheese and melted mozzarella was the perfect soul-soothing dish on this cold and blustery evening. Served with a loaf of freshly baked Italian bread, it was a perfect duo.

The caprese salad was a lovely and colorful display of sliced tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil. Unfortunately, tomatoes in October serve as a poignant reminder of the changing seasons. After a summer of fresh, ripe tomatoes, they seemed a bit woody and anemic, but the balsamic vinaigrette dipping sauce was fabulous. In fact, we kept coming back to that dipping sauce with our other items. It was that good.

I could only afford pizza in my young days, but it was the best pizza with fennel sausage and a rich tomato sauce. I ordered one to go and brought it back to share with my husband.

I wanted to try something off the real menu this time. Eggplant Parmesan ($11.25) did not disappoint. There was a huge portion of crispy eggplant with plenty of cheese served over spaghetti. Did I mention how much I love Capri’s sauce?

Helene ordered the sausage pesto pasta ($10.75) and chose blue cheese dressing for her salad. A large dish of mostaccioli came in a light white sauce flecked with basil and chunks of homemade sausage that were plentiful and tasty. The salad, with its flavorful dressing, was just as tasty with cucumbers, red, green and iceberg lettuce and those dang tasteless tomatoes.

Nikki was in the mood for spaghetti aglio olio, but she decided to step it up a notch by ordering Madeleine’s Pasta ($9.75), one of the restaurant’s specialty Italian dishes. In addition to the classic flavors of garlic and olive oil, Madeleine’s spaghetti came with mushrooms and shrimp, making it a hearty upgrade from the simple traditional dish.

Jennifer chose the mostaccioli salsiccia ($10.25) as her main course. Smothered with a house-made red sauce, earthy sautéed mushrooms, homemade fennel sausage, a blend of Italian seasonings and topped with shredded Romano cheese, its authentic rich flavor was over the top.

Coffee and ice cream were included with our meals, but we also wanted to try a homemade dessert. Whenever tiramisu ($3.75) is an option, we go for it. Wonderfully creamy without being heavy, the layers of mascarpone custard and coffee-soaked cake were velvety and delicious.

I’m thinking we should start dating at Capri again.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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