Capitano in Carlton reinvents Italian-American classics

Chittara with clams.
Chittara with clams. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

A whole lasagne, choose-your-own-toppings pizzas, a bone-in veal parmigiana and made-to-order tiramisu are just a few dishes coming up when Capitano opens in Carlton on Wednesday.

The new project from Fitzroy's Bar Liberty team is an ode to the Italian-American red sauce joints that American co-owner and chef Casey Wall grew up on, but with an Aussie twist.

"The places I went to as a kid would be serving the same specials today as they were when I was nine years old," he says. "Being in Australia gives us an opportunity to reinvigorate it – make something familiar but different."

Co-owner Casey Wall at Capitano, Carlton.
Co-owner Casey Wall at Capitano, Carlton. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Still, it's not an Italian-American restaurant without pasta with vodka sauce. Spaghetti with either red sauce or clam sauce will also be on the menu, and for mains, think dry-aged steaks with plenty of vegetable sides to share.

Twenty wines will be available by the glass, and about 100 by the bottle, two-thirds of which are "accessible Italian varietals", and the rest a bit more esoteric. There will also be a range of beers and a tight list of cocktails.

Aesthetically, it was no small job to turn what was until recently dive bar The Beaufort into Capitano. "Anything that could be painted black was painted black," says Wall. "All the windows were covered with vinyl stickers. It was like a vampire cafe."

Despite the Italian-American slant, there's no red gingham in sight. A large, stained hardwood bar occupies the back third, the front third is given over to olive green banquettes, timber-topped tables and a terrazzo floor. And the section that once housed Ike's Rack Shack is being used for storage, but will become a second dining room by the end of the year.

"I love [Bar] Liberty, but it's a very specific wine bar. It's not meant for 100 per cent of the market," says Wall. "But at Capitano, we're expecting families and the like – it's much more approachable."

Open Mon-Fri 5.30pm-late, Sat-Sun noon-late.

421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, 03 9134 8555, capitano.com.au