Mediterranean food enthusiasts can stray anywhere in the expansive Oklahoma City metropolitan area with confidence that wherever they are, pita-friendly food isn't far away.
The latest quality purveyor of Mediterranean food to open is Capers Bistro and Buffet, 6317 N Meridian Ave.
Capers is owned by Hakim Ait Ahmed and Greg Ahrens. The executive chef is Nordeen Bennai, who, in more than two decades behind the stove, helped establish Cafe 501 as one of the city's top concepts. Bennai left Cafe 501 last year and moved to Lewisville, Texas, to help a friend open a restaurant there.
Bennai said he was initially hesitant to work on a concept built around a buffet.
“As a chef, you hear ‘buffet' and you worry, but it is what is,” he said. “I thought this style of food would work in a buffet, and I thought we could offer our guests a full-service experience even though we do have a buffet.”
At Capers you choose between full buffet, soup and salad, or kids buffet and pay before you enter the dining room. Once paid, you'll be taken to your seat and greeted by a server, who will bring you drinks and dessert and even grab stuff from the buffet for you if you're not inclined to do it yourself.
Local demand for Mediterranean food has grown enough to draw national chain Garbanzo Cafe, which is on the verge of opening on Northwest Expressway.
Bennai brings to the table flavors from his native Morocco plus intensive knowledge about foods from all the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. Proximity dictates that this style of food has plenty of crossover from country to country. Gyros, shawarma, hummus, babaghanouj, harissa, tahini and couscous are found in various forms in the mother land, and Capers offers its interpretations of each.
The salad section of the buffet is perhaps the most stunning. Tabbouleh, fatoosh, Persian, garbanzo and cabbage, and Greek are all represented beautifully and deliciously. I found myself eating so much salad, I could've walked out satiated, but I would've lost my gourmand card had I walked out without some fried cauliflower, moosaka, chicken shawarma, gyros, and kafta.
The chicken braised with olives was tender and juicy and offered a nice alternative to common chicken preparations. The beef braised with cabbage was tender and rich, the cabbage adding a bit of texture.
Chef Bennai is the perfect captain for this ship. Buffets in the wrong hands can end up untidy, flat and dry. But watch Bennai's staff tend to the buffet a few minutes and you realize they've been well-trained to protect the diner's experience.
Before he joined Cafe 501, Bennai spent two years managing the kitchen at Sleepy Hollow restaurant, which was known for its pan-fried chicken with green peas and family-style dining.
“I'm frying chicken the way we did it at Sleep Hollow,” he said. “Cast-iron skillet, fresh oil — only thing missing is the greens, but maybe we'll add those later!”
Behind the buffet you'll spy a pizza oven, which produces not only pizzas but fresh pocket pitas. Bennai also decided to pay homage to the space's previous occupant, the Catfish Cabin.
“We're doing the whole fried catfish during dinner,” Bennai said. “There were here 30 years, so we thought we should give the people the thing that kept them coming back.”
Lunch is $8.99 and dinner is $11.99. If you'd like to stick with soup and salad, which will be plenty for most, cost is $7.99. Kids ages 2 to 12 eat for $4.49, and you can do a to-go box for $4.99.
Capers is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. They also offer catering services, including a private dining room.
“There is no charge for the room,” Bennai said.
For more information, call 720-2600.