As a dining critic, I spend a lot of time in new, untested restaurants. What I often witness is an awkward dance between guests and staff. Diners don’t yet have a sense of the acoustics, so they shout. The front-of-the-house team hasn’t yet found that service sweet spot between hovering and ignoring. The kitchen hasn’t instinctively figured out those small details of seasoning and execution that turn a good dish into a signature one.
Then, every once in a while, I find a restaurant like Capers on Main where the guests seem as if they’re at home. From the nearly all-female clientele at lunch, to the multi-generational families at night, to the piano bar crowd sipping sangria amidst animal prints and overstuffed furniture in the lounge, these folks know exactly what to expect from Capers — homey service and generous portions of old-school restaurant fare that arrives lickety-split.
These customers found Capers quickly, when Steven and Veronica Dudley opened it in 2004 on Main St. in downtown Kennesaw. This funky little house and garden had its charms, elbow room not being one of them. So the Dudleys decamped to the current shopping strip location in 2010, and business quickly doubled. Guests know to expect crowds at lunch and on weeknights as well as prime time.
Chef Steven Dudley worked his way up through the ranks of the Peasant Group — that seminal Atlanta restaurant company that had its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s. If his cooking still seems a little stuck in that period (wasabi mashed potatoes, rosemary sprigs set like flagpoles on every dish) then, well, that’s part of its throwback appeal. Put it this way: If you had the slightest inclination to see “Rock of Ages,” then I think you’ll appreciate the generous spirit of his food.
One menu is served all day, but most items are offered in half-portions and there are any number of lunch and dinner specials on top of the already-lengthy menu.
I would (for once!) steer you toward the creamiest and cheesiest things on this menu. How’s the corn and shrimp chowder ($4)? Like grandma’s sherry stirred into wallpaper paste, but so good in that way that only a flour-thickened cream soup can be. There’s spinach-artichoke dip on the menu, but go for the gusto and try the spinach-artichoke roll ($10). It’s like a kind of cannelloni made with one of those thick lasagna noodles with ruffled edges, then doused in marinara. The stuffed chicken ($13) is as big as Hagrid’s fist — a chicken-breast balloon that gushes herbed mushroom cream cheese.
Lighter items tend toward the sweet side. The half-order of lamb ($15) is a steal: four nicely frenched lamb chops right off the grill with a potato and vegetable. But I wish I had the forethought to ask for the puddle of pure apricot jelly on the side. I like the grilled Caesar ($6), an enormous and intact half-head of romaine that got a quick mark on the grill. I’m not sure it needs a shower of red pepper bits and corn kernels along with its dressing.
I might also point out the reasonable prices come at the cost of unexciting ingredients — waxy cheeses on the salads, flavorless crabmeat inside otherwise fun stuffed mushrooms ($11) and a springy duck breast ($17) without much character.
While I’m whining, there’s the wine list that features a couple of dozen inexpensive bottles you’ll recognize from the shelf at Kroger.
But I don’t want to whine too much at this otherwise winning restaurant that knows its clientele so well. I want to kick back and enjoy a tasty Hawaiian ribeye ($24) marinated overnight in soy sauce and fruit juices, then served up with a ginormous scoop of creamed spinach and those wasabi mashed potatoes. I think this restaurant is Kennesaw’s rock of ages.CAPERS ON MAIN 1635 Old 41 Highway, Kennesaw, 678- 594-7735
Food: American bistro fare
Service: Super-friendly, super-atttentive
Best dishes: Spinach-artichoke roll, lamb chops, Hawaiian ribeye
Vegetarian selections: Yes, and some good sides to make a meal
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Children: Welcome, with a good kids’ menu
Parking: In lot
Wheelchair access: Full
Noise level: High, but a nice high.