Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
History keeps appearing at Cappy’s Northside Tavern, even where Merle and Linda Anderson don’t expect to find it.
The couple took over the longtime restaurant and bar in January. They started cleaning and remodeling.
They left the old neon lights in the windows of the brick building. They left the giant dimmer switch and rotary phone on the walls.
They repainted and Linda put in the menu she wanted. Merle added taps so they could have craft beer, which he’s not familiar with but thought would sell well.
“It’s fun to take something that’s old and help it turn into what it needs to be,” she said. “It’s kind of fun to make this place look nice.”
They opened May 1.
Customers started walking in and telling stories.
They told of getting engaged and married in the tavern at 1000 N. Michigan St., Elkhart.
They told of the times they had after getting off work at Miles Laboratories across the street. Or Adams Westlake across the street.
Merle can show you the manhole in the basement where the Budweiser used to be lowered out of a truck and into the bar.
“They tell me in the ’60s it was the largest Budweiser retailer in the state of Indiana,” he said.
I don’t have a way to verify that and he probably doesn’t either. But like most things at Cappy’s, it makes a good story.
The building at Michigan and Mishawaka Street was a grocery store in the late 1920s. According to information from Elkhart historian Paul Thomas, the building likely became a tavern in 1936. Dominic Cappelletti, Linda’s grandfather, bought the place in the late 1940s. He left a spot on Harrison Street that became Nicky D’s.
And at Cappy’s, he would sit at a table and cash the checks of those who worked nearby, deducting their food and beer costs as he did so, Merle said.
Cappelletti would go to the bank a couple times a day on a busy day.
Three shifts of workers would flow into the bar, which opened at 7 a.m. and closed around 3:30 a.m. “There was just a steady stream of people in here,” Merle said.
The stories are endless, he said. And even when the stories end, the dishes have one. The Andersons tried to order more salad bowls. And they found out that the ones at Cappy’s were military issue from the 1940s and are only available these days on eBay.
The restaurant and bar has been busy since it opened. Linda, who retired in August from management in the medical field, is in the kitchen. Their daughter, Kelly, is the head server. Merle is still running Pete’s Simonton Lake Tavern but is there some of the time.
Lucille Kilgren, Linda’s mom, is the sole owner of Pete’s. Merle and Linda have operated it since October 2002. Linda’s aunt, Evelyn Cappelletti, is the owner of Cappy’s. Others were managing it, but it had closed and the Andersons brought it back.
And it’s a nice place. The south dining room is family friendly. The bar is comfortable. Both are well-lit from big front windows. (The broken one happened from a fight between two non-customers outside, Merle said.)
The menu has an array of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, pasta and other entrees. Linda puts her Italian heritage on the plate and it tastes good.
The meatballs are big. In a sandwich, that means they’re messy. The tenderloin sandwiches, grilled or fried, are big — both in size and popularity (and cost $5.95). An Italian beef sandwich that was a special last week was full of grilled peppers and onions.
Fried ravioli ($4.95), a St. Louis specialty, is on the appetizer list. I didn’t realize the fried mozzarella cheese is hand-battered in the kitchen, but now I want an order ($4.95).
Dinners are $10.95 to $15.95. The pasta is straightforward and good. I’m not a fan of the 8-ounce marinated steak that the Andersons get in and simply cook. If Linda marinated a piece of beef, it’d be better.
And the special I haven’t tried but now want after learning of it in the interview is Happy Cappy’s shrimp, which is dragged through a sriracha sauce, according to Linda.
Because she’s making most of the food and preparing to order, you may wait a bit to eat. If you’re in a hurry, or if you have a lunch hour that can’t become something else, you may get fidgety. Your order may hit the table in a few minutes or 30, depending on business. For now, that’s just the way it is.
Cappy’s is back. That’s a good thing.
“I like to cook. It’s my grandpa’s bar,” Linda said.
Both her grandmothers worked there. So did a bunch of other relatives. And thanks to Merle and Linda, the place is alive and well. Cappy’s has a stable of regulars already.
“I’ve had so many people tell me they just like the way this place feels,” Merle said.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805 or via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
If You Go
What: Cappy’s Northside Tavern
Where: 1000 N. Michigan St., Elkhart
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
Details: No smoking, family dining available, space for groups available, reservations accepted for all days but Friday, credit cards accepted, has outdoor patio.