The crazy cats from Bar Liberty, who brought you the GLT sandwich and pour whisky from a replica Ford Thunderbird, have just opened the doors on their latest project, Capitano. Transforming The Beaufort, an old Carlton pub that most recently traded in picklebacks and American barbecue, into a cosy Italian restaurant was no easy feat. But they may have just pulled it off.
"We've had people from the neighbourhood come in and say I can't believe it's the same place," Banjo Harris Plane, one of Capitano's co-owners, says.
Located just a few blocks from Lygon Street, the thoroughfare of Melbourne's Little Italy, Capitano is inspired by the Sicilian heritage of co-owner Michael Bascetta and the Italo-American dishes chef Casey Wall ate in his native land. On the menu, you'll find a vodka-spiked tomato pasta (no cream, though) and a classic cheese pizza. The salumi board features gabagool – or capacolla to those not versed in the New Jersey-Italian dialect.
"I guess we're kind of terming it Italian by way of New York by way of Melbourne," Harris Plane says.
The rest of the menu consists of a strong selection of pizzas cooked in an electric oven and made with sourdough bases that have been fermented for 48 hours, which Harris Plane says results in a pizza that's slightly sturdier than a traditional Neapolitan pie and has a nice amount of chew.
Diners can start with the classic cheese and go DIY with their toppings – choose from mortadella, roast fennel, rainbow chard and more – or opt for one of the four ready-made creations on the menu, including 'nduja paired with provolone and aged mozzarella, and a simple tomato, garlic and marjoram number. Sides include a salad of fennel, wild apples, salted ricotta and elk and new potatoes with bottarga and a celery pesto.
Being a former pub, Capitano has a bar area for walk-ins where you can pull up a stool, order from the same menu as the dining room and chat to the bartenders about what you're drinking, whether that's the Grapefruit Americano or a Campanian fiano on the 90-strong wine list. Harris Plane has tapped into the impressive supply networks he's established over at Liberty and pulled together a selection that's mostly under $100, apart from the "fancy page" of Valentini rosé and heavy-hitter producers of Barolo.
Those who remember the days of the Beaufort might be tempted to walk past the transformed space. But they'd be missing out on the terrazzo floors that have been restored to their former glory, complemented by Thonet chairs and timber tables from Eco Wood Design.
Heading to a pub for Italian might be a leap of faith for some, but with this kind of pedigree, you're in safe hands. Think of Capitano as a red-sauce joint given a twenty-first century update.
Capitano, 421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton, Vic, (03) 9134 8555, capitano.com.au. Mon-Fri 5pm-10pm, Sat-Sun: noon-10pm.