By John Fitts
COLLINSVILLE — Justin LaCapria has been executive chef at Lisa’s Crown and Hammer since April but only recently did he debut a revamped menu.
LaCapria said he really needed to get a sense of what people wanted, what new dishes people liked and which offerings from predecessor Michael Alfeld remained most popular.
“I was trying to figure out what Collinsville and the Farmington valley wants, eats and likes,” LaCapria said. “I took what people were buying from his menu and kind of made it my own, with a lot of additions and changes.”
One of the most popular new items is a $14 Truffle Burger, which features an 8-ounce patty, seasoned and grilled to order, with melted Swiss, caramelized onions and a made-from-scratch truffle mayonnaise.
Keeping true to the recent Crown tradition, it and other burgers are served on an English muffin.
Other new offerings include:
- House made Fried Mozz, $8, with hand stretch mozzarella double breaded and serviced with marinara
- Crispy Onion Rings, $7, with buttermilk marinated thinly sliced onions, lightly battered and fried to order. Served with a tiger dipping sauce
- Thai Salad, $13, Crunchy romaine, edamame, carrots, crispy wontons, sesame chicken tossed with cilantro Thai vinaigrette
- Grilled Chicken Cobb, $13, Fresh tomato, avocado, cucumber, bacon, eggs, blue cheese crumbles, romaine lettuce topped with grilled chicken and Parmesan ranch dressing.
- Scallops and bacon, $25, Grilled sea scallops topped with a local bacon butter sauce served with mashed potatoes.
Borrowing and expanding on ideas he learned in other restaurants, LaCapria also worked with Southern New England Spice Company to develop a custom spice dredge. It’s available on dishes that range from the 10 oz. Bone-in Pork Chop ($21), a grilled dish lightly rubbed in the seasoning and topped with a sweet and spicy apple chutney over sweet potato mash and the $33 Crown Steak, featuring an 8 oz. petite filet or 12 oz. New York Strip with buttery mashed potatoes and seasonable vegetables.
Local sourcing when possible also continues to be a priority at the Crown, LaCapria said. Lisa’s Club ($12) for example, featured grilled marinated chicken breast on white toast topped with crispy Nodine’s bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise.
Other local vendors include Tulmeadow Farm, Bristol’s Farm, Harvest Bakery, Collinsville Farmers Markey and City Fish Market.
The new menu also remains diverse with signature sandwiches, starters, salads and entrees. Prices range from the $5 small field green salad to the $33 Crown Steak.
If you are looking for a lower price point, a new Happy Hour Menu might hit the spot. Offerings start with a $3 taco, with a choice of chicken fried fish or black bean. There are also $5 nacho and $7 slider options. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. During that time, there are also beer, wine and cocktail specials, weighing in at $3, $5 and $7
LaCapria is enjoying his stint as executive chef but he’s no stranger to restaurants, having been in the business for more than 15 years.
LaCapria, who grew up in the Boston area, started cooking at age 13 and culinary arts at Medford Vocational.
Just a couple of years later, he started working at an Italian seafood restaurant outside of Boston.
“That’s kind of when I knew I wanted to cook,” He said.
LaCapria worked a variety of jobs in restaurant kitchens throughout high school and college and Bachelor’s in food service management, associates culinary from Johnson and Wales in Providence, Rhode Island.
In College, he met his future wife, Rebecca Mangiagli, who hails from Simsbury. After graduation – both got job at same hotel in Nantucket.
They then went to Vail for the winter. It was supposed to be for one season.
That was our plan when we moved to Vail,” he said. “We both went out there with no jobs.”
They ended up staying for 5 years, and LaCapria helped open restaurants for the resort and later for Elway’s Steakhouse.
In 2013, the couple was planning their wedding and decided to come home.
“That’s what kind of made the decision to move back here,” he said. “All of our family is in the northeast.”
In Connecticut, LaCapria served as sous chef at locations such as Maple Tree in Simsbury and Brio Tuscan Grille at Westfarms.
As the couple began planning to start a family, LaCapria decided to look for an executive chef position. He found one at the Crown and Hammer.
“I’d been practicing for so long, honing my skills running a kitchen, and I thought this would be a good spot to showcase them,” LaCapria said. “I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work and I still have a lot to learn. In any business you can never stop learning and improving. That’s what I try to do.”
Lisa and John Maurer, who own Lisa’s Luna Pizza in Simsbury, purchased the 3 Depot St. business in early November of 2014. From the Spring of 2011 until then, “The Crown,” was owned by Jonathan White, Susan and Jim Tancredi and John and Lori Brandon. The old train depot building is still owned by an LLC managed by John Rainey, who first opened the restaurant in early 2005.
Lisa Maurer said she is thrilled with LaCapria’s work and the new menu.
“I interviewed a lot of really talented chefs to fill our vacancy last spring,” she said. “I hired Justin because I felt like he would be someone that was easy to work with and he had a very impressive culinary resume. I was right. He is a great person and his food has surpassed my expectations by a mile.”
“With the addition of Justin as our chef and the return of our original Sous Chef, Augustus Griffen the kitchen is putting out amazing food,” she added. “Some of our original dishes have improved and we have some great new additions.”
See the new menu below.