Not only are we going to have a top-notch new restaurant opening at the end of the month, but houses are selling like hotcakes and construction is skyrocketing.
First off, it was sad to see The Blue Heron close, it was an intimate, treasured restaurant for customers on and off the Isles of Capri with repeat customers coming all the way from Miami and beyond to experience the ambiance and savory dinners. Former owners, Alex Alexander and John Rogers, have taken a much-needed retirement opportunity and sold the restaurant to A. J. Black.
Chef Black, who grew up in Sicily, has a worldwide reputation in the restaurant business, having trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris—the Parisian cooking school whose name portrays culinary excellence—and trained under legendary chef Paul Bocuse. He was the chef in upscale New York City restaurants, owned restaurants in Nantucket, MA (Arno’s), Yarmouth Port, MA (Primavera Ristorante), Naples, FL, (Amore), Sanibel Island (ll Tesora) and now has brought his artistic talent and culinary expertise to the new Osteria Capri, formerly The Blue Heron.
With extensive remodeling and outside seating created, the reality of opening, despite Hurricane Irma damages and the challenges of COVID-19, is coming to fruition. The tentative opening date is September 29th, so you’ll want to get your reservations in pronto. Amazingly, Osteria Capri will be open seven—yes, seven—days a week, and the hours are 11 AM to 10 PM, with special brunch choices on Saturday and Sunday that will make your face and stomach grin from ear to ear. When I saw and heard some of A.J.’s ideas, I was mesmerized at the creativity and attention to detail. And to think, you won’t have to leave the beautiful Isles of Capri to find this level of artistic culinary excellence. We have three other great restaurants—the Island Gypsy, Pelican Bend and the Capri Fish House—on Capri, however, Osteria Capri will fill a niche uniquely.
According to A. J. Black, “Talent is nothing, you have to share what you know and love. I’ve shared my recipes with other chefs and told them exactly how to accomplish the design and blending of flavors. Copying without the knowledge is still a bad copy. I would rather show someone how to make a dish so they do it right.”
Wow, what a unique attitude.
Just one of the highlights of our conversation about Osteria Capri was AJ’s devotion to raising fresh herbs outside the restaurant in the potted trees and bushes he brought in to enhance the garden effect. He’s serious about using fresh and quality products and had already harvested about twenty small, spicy, red peppers to use.
“It’s important to me to have and fresh, organic ingredients in my cooking. I have grown most of the herbs outside from organic seeds, like the Italian Basil, Sicilian Oregano and more. I planted a Meyer Lemon tree and hope it will grow into a large, beautiful tree full of lemons to remind me of the fruit groves I loved in Sicily.”
Chef Black expressed a great love of being surrounded by living plants and trees, harvesting and using fresh ingredients, like those from Farm to Table, which helps local farmers. He emphasized that he buys locally whenever possible, including from local fishermen. He showed me a unique pizza box that he is debuting, to again, enhance the flavor and keep the pizza crust crispy.
“Nobody likes a soggy pizza or one that attaches to the paper. This box has air circulation so the pizza won’t dry out. One of our pizzas has three different tomatoes on it and those flavors blend together perfectly. The tomatoes are picked fresh in Italy, then peeled and dried to maintain the flavor and shipped for my use in the kitchen.”
These will be shipped from Italy along with mozzarella cheese, only the best. Pizzas are served Neapolitan style and range in price from $15 – $20, but you can put your individual touch on them by ordering a “Build Your Own” and use your creativity with the choices that they have in-house.
The exterior of Osteria Capri is a cheerful blue. The interior of the restaurant has maintained its intimacy with unique lighting, original artwork and two amazing antique furniture pieces that really make a statement when customers walk in. Both pieces have quite a history! However, the view of the bay and the sunset will draw your eyes to the windows and the peaceful water scene that stretches to the mangroves in the distance.
Osteria Capri will be focused on Italian food with local specialties such as fresh pasta made daily and grilled meat or fish. The menu is diverse and imaginative and the reasonable prices will allow you to accompany your meal with a lovely bottle of wine or two from the collection of over 100 varieties from notable wineries. If you choose to sit outside, especially as the weather cools, you could enjoy your wine, the peaceful view and watch Chef Black cook your steak to perfection on the outside grill. Or you could enjoy a domestic or Italian beer outside or inside with your pizza. The combinations are endless and spectacularly unique. Prices for dinners are a little higher—highest $37—and some of the specialty items are sold at market price, like lobster or steak.
Coming events planned for Osteria Capri are food and wine tastings, which will be an educational experience. Tony Toma is going to be the featured sommelier for the wine tasting. Chef Black has left no stone unturned.
As our interview was concluding, several people came to the door and asked if the restaurant was open. A. J. explained the opening date and they were delighted to hear it was this month.
“It’s like this all day, every day. People are already making reservations or want to buy gift cards,” Chef Black remarked with a smile. “You know, I have never thought of this as a job. I’m passionate about creating superb, healthy food for others, so for me, it is a calling that I love.”
Compared to other restaurants with an experienced, Le Cordon Bleu trained, respected and talented chef, we are so fortunate to have Chef Black join our little piece of paradise on the Isles of Capri. I’ll be counting the days like so many of you. Bon appetite!