Osteria Capri serves Italian seafood dishes

Opening a restaurant is a high-risk proposition at the best of times. These days, with COVID-19 precautions, limited occupancy, and a staggering 85% of restaurants seriously at risk of closing in the coming months, that seems like too serious a risk, like a poker player shooting to an inside straight line.

But on the Isles of Capri, AJ Black exudes serene confidence. Chef-owner of Osteria Capri, Black opened his new waterfront restaurant in October, business is strong and he expects it to continue to do so.

“I am not concerned with finances. I am a man of faith,” he said. “I have never had any debts. Also, I hope this country will always bounce back. I like this country.”

Opening the restaurant was a challenge, Black said, but nothing he and his staff couldn’t handle. “Lots of problems but the day we open I’ve already forgotten. Tried to do this for two years. Fell in love with the waterfront location of what was for decades the Blue Heron, and some small space there, although there is plenty of seating outside.

Chef-owner AJ Black shows off his high-tech wood-fired oven at Osteria Capri on the Isles of Capri, in the space once occupied by the Blue Heron.

Black is a longtime veteran of the Southwest Florida restaurant scene, having spent over 10 years at Il Tesoro on Sanibel Island, and on the global restaurant scene before that, having owned restaurants in New York and Rome. Originally from Sicily, Black grew up in the restaurant business and honed her culinary skills at the Italian Culinary Institute.

A true Sicilian despite the name Black, AJ makes full use of his hands when he speaks, almost as if he’s leading the conversation like a symphony. His birth name was Antonello Jacopo Maximus Cuoco.

The main accents at Osteria Capri are ‘Italian’ and ‘Seafood’, reflecting Black’s tastes and background, as well as another – ‘Organic’.

“Everything we serve is organic. We have no farmed fish, no additives,” he said. Since his time in the area, he has built relationships with seed-to-table food purveyors and seeks out fresh local seafood.

“The worst part is disappointing someone,” Black said, which ties into his preference for a small establishment. “All my life I’ve been to small restaurants.”

To ensure they don’t try to serve too much, and also to help with social distancing, the restaurant operates by reservation only and does not accept walk-in diners. With the constant evolution of the health situation, and the start of the season, the opening hours are likely to change; the Osteria was just starting to serve lunch in mid-November.

Osteria Capri is a family business, with Black’s wife Jelena, his mother-in-law and brother-in-law all working with him, and a recently retired brother. Beyond that, he has a group of longtime employees who have become his “restaurant family.”

To open, Black oversaw a complete renovation, both at the front of the house and in the kitchen, where he proudly showed off his high-tech wood and gas genoa stove – “the best in the world”. I built the restaurant around this oven.

While Osteria Capri has a scenic waterfront with stunning sunset views, Black says the one thing that guarantees guests will return are the meals served to them.

“The only appeal of our restaurant is the food. I make sure you’re going to have a good meal.

Black said his personal favorites were seafood dishes, but then named some of the other dishes, including braised meats such as prime rib and homemade Osteria pasta such as fettuccine, ravioli and lasagna. In addition to local seafood, he sources octopus from Boston and Spain. Many dishes, including catch of the day, can be served in your choice of styles including Toscana, Livorno or Portofino.

Some of the specialty dishes can get expensive, but Black prides itself on offering a range of dishes and prices, with a Margerita pizza available for $15. There is a rotating lineup of artists.

For Black, food is fuel and life, all linked to his personal philosophy on which he becomes poetic, each point underlined by his hands. He turned his beliefs into a restaurant – Osteria Capri.

If you are going to:

Osteria Capri

387 Capri Blvd., Islands of Capri

239-970-5721

www.osteriacapri.com

Dino S. Williams