By Rick Rodriguez Special to Published Jul 02, 2014 at 3:36 PM

A popular West Allis Italian restaurant closed in December 2012 after being in business for 40 years. I have a friend who would drive from Oconomowoc just to buy lasagna from Capri Restaurant, 8340 W. Beloit Rd.

A year after closing, Chris Paul – along with wife, Abby – acquired the restaurant after a friend living a few blocks from Capri persistently encouraged him to do so.

Paul has worked in the restaurant industry since his teen years, when he started as a delivery driver. Over time, he learned the cooking aspect and has recently been working to perfect the most popular recipes he inherited from the previous owner, as well as developing his own recipes for the menu.

I was pleased with the initial round of remodeling. Wood laminate floors and a light beige paint job really brightened up the dining room. The lower half of the walls had light stained wooden panels supplementing the new clean appearance, and a mural just outside the kitchen contributed a warm and comforting feeling.

Along with the new changes, some of the old furniture remains. Many of Capri’s original regulars are attached to the booths, loose benches and all, so it may take some time to replace them. I think it’s a nice gesture and smart business move to keep the customers of the former restaurant happy.

Outside, the exterior of the building received a fresh coat of clay colored paint in just two days, thanks to the efforts of a couple of employees. Black awnings with Capri di Nuovo printed in white font hang over the large picture windows, but the original Capri sign at the side of the road remains, for now.

Paul told me that future plans include repaving the parking lot, adding a patio, and replacing the roadside sign. He’s also in the process of adding a few specialty pizzas and new entrees to the menu.

The staff at Capri di Nuovo makes its own bread dough and pizza dough from scratch. They also make their own pizza and pasta sauces.

The menu consists of soups, sandwiches – such as an Italian beef and sausage combo – appetizers, pasta, and Italian specialties including shrimp parmesan and linguini with clams.

Appetizers that caught my eye included Motorroco dip made with tomatoes, basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese, and a 5-cheese plank with five Italian cheeses breaded and fried. I would go back just for those two menu items.

Capri di Nuovo’s pizza crust options include thin, thick, pan style, and a Chicago style stuffed crust. The thin crust is available in 10-, 12-, 14-, 16- and a family sized 18-inch crusts, ranging from $7 to $14 for a cheese pizza.

The thick crust, pan style and Chicago style crusts are available in 10, 12, and 14 inches ranging from $9 to $13. Toppings cost $1 to $2 for standard toppings and $1.25 to $3.50 for premium toppings such as Canadian bacon, tomatoes, spinach, pineapple and shrimp.

I started with a sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom pizza on thin crust.

The edge of the crust had a cracker crunch while the center of the pie-shaped slices were softer but remained firm as I lifted them. The strength of the crust was likely helped by its density. I prefer a thin crust with a light, airy texture. I think some experimenting can get this crust to that texture if Paul chooses to go that route. 

Paul starts with a tomato puree for the sauce, then adds his own seasoning blend followed by ground tomatoes for texture, which perhaps brought out the fresh tomato taste I experienced. I think more sauce would have helped offset the dense texture of the crust, which surprisingly did not seem dry, so bonus points for that.

Capri di Nuovo uses fresh mushrooms, and the sausage and pepperoni are sourced from Greco meats, which has a Waukesha location, although based out of Chicago area. All of the toppings had good flavor and complemented the thick, delicious layer of cheese.

It’s been a while since I had a Chicago-style stuffed pizza, so I ordered one topped simply with Italian sausage.

The crust is spread into a round pan, topped generously with sauce, several layers of cheese and Italian sausage. Then a layer of crust is added to seal the pie, and a thick layer of sauce is poured over the crust, flowing over the edges just a bit.

Again, the slices were strong enough to pick up without flopping over or breaking apart. I picked up a slice and took bites as if eating a sandwich until the tasty sauce made the task a bit messy, in a good way.

The pan style crust lacked the buttery or oily texture and flavor I’ve often found with Chicago style crusts, but again, it wasn’t dry. There was enough moisture, for my taste anyway, to allow me to enjoy the pie without feeling the need to wash down each bite with a sip of water. The dense texture worked well here. The ample portion of sauce played a key role in my enjoyment of this pie.

Of the two pies, I preferred the Chicago style, which is never the case with me. I am a Milwaukee style thin crust fan through and through.  

For those of you wondering, I confirmed that the thick crust is essentially a double thin crust and the pan style is the Chicago-style minus the top layers of crust and sauce.

The service on my visit was very good. My server was friendly and attentive, and Paul made his rounds checking in on guests, while the cooks that he trained handled kitchen duties.

I’m intrigued to see the small changes to the menu and try the new items. I’d also like to taste how well Paul did recreating the delicious lasagna recipe that he inherited and spent time trying to perfect by working with the family of the previous owner.

Even though Capri di Nuovo just opened on March 10, it seems the restaurant is off to a good start. I believe the former customer base will provide a foundation and Paul’s desire to create a positive dining experience will help grow the customer base.

Currently Capri’s old website is up so be sure you are calling the Capri di Nuovo listing when you search online. I expect a new website as one of the future projects, but for now, you can follow them on Facebook and learn about nightly specials to help plan your visit. 

Rick Rodriguez Special to
I was born and raised in Milwaukee, and I plan to stay in Milwaukee forever. I'm the oldest of three children and grew up in the Riverwest neighborhood. My family still lives in the same Riverwest house since 1971.

I graduated from Rufus King High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a business degree.

My true passion for Milwaukee probably started after I joined the Young Professionals of Milwaukee (now called FUEL Milwaukee) which just celebrated its one year anniversary at the time. The events that I attended, and sometimes organized, really opened my eyes to what Milwaukee had to offer, as well as its potential for the future. So for the past, present, and future FUEL Milwaukee corporate sponsors out there, that organization does produce results (editorial)!

I love all of the Milwaukee Sports teams, professional and amateur. I love the Milwaukee arts scene and all of the festivals. I love that you can find a free concert in the summer just about every day of the week. I love the various neighborhoods around the Milwaukee area and the unique characteristics that they offer. I love the people who take the time to tell us about those unique characteristics. I have to hold my breath and count to ten when someone tells me that there is nothing to do in Milwaukee. Then I prove them wrong.

Most of all, I love the Milwaukee dining scene. I love how it continues to evolve with modern dishes and new trends while the classic restaurants continue to remind us that great food doesn't have to be "fancy schmancy." However, I also love the chefs that create the "fancy schmancy" dishes and continue to challenge themselves and Milwaukee diners with dishes we've never seen before.

Our media provides attention to the new restaurants, which is great, but I don't like seeing the older great restaurants close their doors (Don Quijote, African Hut) because they've been forgotten, so I try to do my part to let Milwaukeeans know that they're still out there, too. I do that through social media, online reviews, and a dinner club I run for my friends, where we visit restaurants they haven't heard of before or try ethnic cuisine they haven't had before.

My dream is that one day I can mention a great experience in Milwaukee and not have someone respond with "have you been to Chicago?" I don't like those people very much.