Food Insider: Chef Eric Isaac of Ristorante Capeo

Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Rock City Eat’s latest series, Food Insider, takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people. This week, we have Eric Isaac, who, with his brother Brian, are the chefs at Ristorante Capeo  in North Little Rock’s Argenta District.

Could you give us a brief rundown of your culinary training/background?
My first job, I was fourteen and was hired to wash dishes at the Ramada Inn’s restaurant in Batesville, our home town. On my first day, one of the two cooks quit, so on my second day I was promoted. A couple of weeks after I was trained, the head cook who trained me quit. So it was just me for quite some time if I’m remembering clearly. It was a nice place for prime rib, other steaks, chicken, shrimp, etc. It really felt good to be in the weeds for a couple of hours each night, kind of a rush, and it still does. After that, I just bounced around from restaurant to restaurant, mostly chains, got fired from most (and deserved it). Always wound up with a better job the next day or two. Then one day, I was looking for Sirloin’s Inn to apply for a job and was completely lost in North Little Rock, when I passed Cassinelli’s 1700 on Main Street. It looked like a nice place, so I went in and talked with the chef and he hired me the next day. That changed everything for me. I quickly realized I knew nothing about this level of food and service. After four years or so, I was able to attend culinary school in the Piedmont region of Italy and worked in Liguria for a while. When I got home I started saving my money, talked Brian into partnering up, we rolled up our sleeves and renovated this hundred plus year old building … and here we are.

How long has Ristorante Capeo been around?
June was 11 years.

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What are some of your signature dishes at Capeo?
I think the elk chop, beef tenderloin and our Pesto Alla Capeo.

Where do you get your inspiration for many of the dishes at the restaurant?
Some things just come out of nowhere, while others you see and think that would be better if it were like this, and they just evolve over time. Just this week, our front of the house manager, Guy, told me about a tomato crème brulee he ate a restaurant in France a few years back, so I made some today, and they are awesome. I’m going to add some goat cheese next time.

Is there a particular dish that you’ve never had on the menu, but really want to?
We used to make a red mullet ravioli with a red mullet sauce over in Italy. I’ve never found that fish here.

Which brother is older?
Brian is older … way older.

What’s it like working with a sibling? Do you argue a lot? And be honest.
Never any knock-down, drag-out arguments that you see on these ridiculous reality shows. We butt heads some privately, but the level of trust I have with Brian dwarfs any that I would ever have with anyone else. That’s worth a little petty argument here and there. I’ve never looked back.

How do you unwind after being in the kitchen?
Nowadays, I just try to get home before my daughter goes to bed.

What are 2-3 restaurants in town where someone might find you eating?
Vino’s, Hanaroo, U.S. Pizza, ZAZA’s and Cheers are always on top of our list. It’s a little embarrassing to say, but I have just recently discovered Mugs Café a block down from us, and it is the coolest place with great food (and coffee I’m sure).

What’s your favorite “hole-in-the-wall” place to eat?
I’ve not been in a long time, but Doe’s Eats cooks one hell of porterhouse, as everyone knows.

Best spot to grab a drink?
Nothing fancy for me, so I’m happy just about everywhere, but if I had to say, probably Reno’s and Cregeen’s.

What might surprise folks to learn about you?
Oh, lots of thing I’m sure, but nothing comes to mind. Hmmm, maybe the next question will answer this one.

Take all things food–related out of the equation … please describe what you enjoy doing in your free time.
Woodworking … I like to build furniture.

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Food Insider: Chef Eric Isaac of Ristorante Capeo