3501 Oleander Dr.
Mon. – Sat., 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Bottom line: The best out of all larger sandwich chains.
Capriotti’s opened its doors in January on Oleander in the former Tropical Smoothie café. Located in Hanover Center, it brings a unique sandwich model to North Carolina for the first time. The northern chain—specifically from the other Wilmington, in Delaware—has been expanding its brand into 13 states so far. They’re best known for slow-roasting turkeys overnight for fresh sandwiches.
The interior of Capriotti’s is rather sterile: grey stone flooring and walls adorned with what can only be corporately mandated framed posters, touting the accomplishments of the restaurant. Most notably, guests will learn the users of AOL voted their signature sandwich, “The Bobbie,” America’s Best Sandwich. While the room is flawlessly clean, it lacks warmth. However, the kitchen, too, remains spotless. More so, it’s easily seen from the customer’s perch near the cash register. I’m always pleased to see an open kitchen; nothing sets the mind at ease like a restaurant with nothing to hide.
The Bobbie, by the way, is designed to encapsulate the beloved sandwiches millions of Americans enjoy each year in the few days following Thanksgiving. It stacks roasted turkey, mayonnaise, cranberry sauce and stuffing in its hoagie roll. I chose to skip it, only because I don’t typically review menu items which restaurants trumpet. Why? Because the entire menu should be on the table for a review. Choosing what they suggest someone eat gives the restaurant too much influence; it lets advertising guide the review. Of course, this isn’t a universal rule just something I adhere to.
And so I opted for the cheesesteak; the bread came steamed to remarkable softness. Preferring crustier styles of bread, I wasn’t wholeheartedly thrilled, but those who don’t share my inclination most definitely will be pleased. Served piping hot, the sandwich itself tasted good, but it needed a bit more decoration. Capriotti’s standard cheesesteak only comes with bread, cheese and steak. Mushrooms, peppers and onions are separate add-ons, and do add a punch of flavor. In particular, the spicy peppers lent needed zing to the sandwich, along with the sweet grilled onions. But the mushrooms lacked the earthiness I wanted in the final taste.
Capriotti’s subs measure in at 9 inches, 12 inches or a monstrous 20 inches. I found 9 more than sufficient for my needs, but heavy eaters won’t have any trouble stuffing themselves.
I followed up with a turkey sandwich on a round roll. Knowing that Capriotti’s turkeys are slow roasted in-house, I employed a trick I sometimes use to gauge the quality of a cooking process. I ordered the sandwich with lettuce, onion and tomato, but skipped the mayonnaise or mustard. I hoped to taste how moist the turkey was on its own. Suffice to say, I suggest sticking with condiments. A lack of seasoning on the white meat plus some dryness didn’t make it stand out as the best.
On a subsequent visit, I took home a hot Italian sub. The soft bread held its own for takeout. I did rather enjoy the selection of capicola, salami and ham. While the salty combination isn’t for everyone, its distinct blend of fatty pork and Italian spices make for a great sandwich. A helpful dash of spicy peppers gave the sandwich a liveliness I enjoyed immensely.
I skipped dessert at Capriotti’s after finding out their cookies aren’t made in house, or locally at all. The labels, in large print on the back of the sugar cookie, told me it might contain peanuts or other allergens. I grow weary when a baker can only guess at what is in his wares. If Capriotti’s business model will allow it, I would strongly suggest replacing the prepackaged cookies with something from one of our local bakeries.
Though I didn’t sample any vegetarian items, I would like to point out that between salads and meatless subs, Capriotti’s is an easy and appropriate destination for those who eschew meat. This is an area where chains have been less capable than smaller restaurants, and I’m pleased to see the trend shifting. Capriotti’s doesn’t just offer vegetables on a bun, but rather stocks tofu-based alternatives to both turkey and chicken, making for more interesting possibilities.
I should mention the staff remained quite friendly and helpful. My visit to Capriotti’s took place during a torrential rainstorm. Just a little water could make that grey stone floor treacherous. With six customers in at the same time, a helpful staffer took out a mop to remove excess water and a yellow caution sign to warn others of the water’s presence. That sort of situational awareness has grown rare in the service industry. I applaud Capriotti’s for cultivating it.
I’ve never made any secret of my preference toward buying local. While Capriotti’s is perfectly nice, it lacks that mom-and-pop charm of other independent restaurants. However, I do believe in grading on a curve, and Capriotti’s business model puts it in clear competition with other larger sandwich chains. And in that competition, they win hands down.
Capriotti’s food is likable if not mind-blowing, but the staff is as friendly as any I’ve encountered. That’s more than enough for a thumbs up. If you’re in the neighborhood, they’re worth a try.