There are three August birthdays among eight members of my wife's family (including me), so each summer we have a celebratory dinner. This is a diverse group in terms of age, hometown and culinary preferences. That has resulted in some less than unanimously positive experiences at Little Rock restaurants we've chosen in the past.
That all changed this Aug. 5, when the four couples sat down in a semi-private room at Capers in West Little Rock. This group needs a broad menu with some traditional entrees, not just what some might call "frou-frou"; reasonable prices; a friendly and flexible server; and the ability to have an audible conversation at an eight-top table that includes two sets of 80-something ears and two sets attached to 70-plus-year-olds. And the food needs to be good. Capers got a thumbs-up from the entire party on all these variables.
Not that anyone should be surprised. Capers delivered an enjoyable experience, even given the collective persnicketiness of this bunch. The same partners who started working together in 1982 at Cajun's Wharf (and now own it) opened Capers in 1997 and added Copper Grill to their empire in 2007. So they clearly know what they're doing.
Our group covered many bases on Capers' large dinner menu, which includes eight soup and salad selections, 10 appetizers, 13 entrees — fish, seafood, chicken, pork and beef are all featured — and six desserts.
We tried two of the soups. Cream of portabella mushroom was the special, and it was rich with pureed mushroom and, while cream-based, not over-the-top rich. The shrimp bisque was similar in texture and also richly flavored. At $4.95 a cup and $6.25 a bowl, they are value priced.
The two who chose buttermilk fried shrimp ($18.95) both raved about their six plump shrimp — noting they were both crunchy and tender — and they enjoyed the sweet and slightly spicy side sauce. They also loved the creamy garlic cheese mashed potatoes. Two more chose the night's special, which was four bacon-wrapped shrimp with either an eight-ounce filet or a 13-ounce ribeye. And we appreciated the waitress offering no pushback when the octogenarians ordered their steaks well-done and medium-well. Both said their steaks were tender and cooked just like they like them.
Two more split the parmesan-encrusted walleye ($23.95) and were very glad they did, because their two plates held what looked like full-size entree portions. The fish was lightly battered, flaky, flavorful and not at all greasy. The accompanying cheese grits weren't nearly cheesy enough, however.
The remaining two diners chose Grouper Florentine ($24.95), a nice-sized, pan-sauteed meaty fillet served over sauteed spinach with baked artichokes and a lemon cream sauce, and Chicken Piccata ($17.95), served with buttered pasta. They also gave their dishes high marks, and most plates were picked clean.
Dessert choices included chocolate creme brulee ($5.75), key lime pie ($6.25), coconut creme pie ($5.75) and carrot cake ($6.25), homemade like all of Capers' desserts. Our friendly server also heard us pondering the lemon pie — the dessert special — so she brought a piece of that on the house. And the desserts for the three birthday folks who ordered them also were free — an unexpected and kind touch.
The carrot cake had more spices than the usual — "more like a spice cake," one taster said. The cream cheese frosting added a cool, smooth taste complement.
One of the brulees was perfect, but the other had some unfortunate char. The lemon pie was really lemony, which we liked. Other than toasted on top, there didn't seem to be a lot of coconut involved with the cream pie, but that didn't really slow us down. The key lime pie is rich and citrusy, and we love almost everything that comes on a graham cracker crust, but we thought the chocolate glaze was unnecessary and a little distracting.
By the time the eight of us had retreated to our cars we already had agreed that August 2017 would find us back at Capers for the family birthday dinner.
14502 Cantrell Road
Little Rock, AR 72223
Don't forget Capers Market, which you enter from the same parking lot that services the restaurant. Subtitled "gourmet to go," the market is open 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. You can order at 868-1182; see daily specials and more at marketatcapers.com.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.