Eighty-five years ago, the spot now known as Cap's Place opened as Club Unique. Popular through the 1940s as a supper club and casino operated by Eugene "Cap" Knight and wife Lola, it's believed to be the oldest restaurant in Broward County. It even has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
But mention Cap's Place to most locals, and you'll most likely hear, "I haven't been there for 20 years."
I'm here to tell you that Cap's is ripe for rediscovery.
A big part of its charm is winding your way through residential Lighthouse Point and boarding the 24-foot launch built specifically for the restaurant to take diners across Lake Placid.
Five minutes later, you arrive on Cap's Island and at a group of ramshackle blue buildings that look more movie set than restaurant. Roosevelt and Churchill ate here, and it's safe to say that not much has been done since that 1942 meeting. I wondered what the neighbors in their multimillion-dollar homes have to say about it.
"The neighbors, knock on wood, have been pretty good," says Talle Hasis of the restaurant she owns with brothers Ted and Tom. Hasis proudly refers to Cap's Place as "a bunch of blue shacks." Their father, Albert, worked alongside Cap and took ownership with wife Patricia in the '60s.
Inside, paneled walls are decorated with old photos and bric-a-brac. Bare light bulbs stand in for fixtures. . Guests sit at old-fashioned captain's chairs around tables covered in oil cloth. The oversized computer monitor on the way in is the very definition of an anachronism.
Cap's has a theme-restaurant quality, whereby the boat driver and wait staff adhere to an informal script. It takes a special kind of server to ask night after night (with any sincerity): "Is this your first time here?" Our waitress succeeded at being informative without turning the evening into a visit to a historical museum.
Cap's is an old-fashioned Florida seafood restaurant, which means it serves as much locally sourced fish as possible. Only the cooking preparation is old-fashioned, but it's much lighter than at many similar restaurants. Yellowtail snapper ($35.95), for instance, is very lightly breaded and sauteed in a lemony sauce. You get a choice or rice, mashed potatoes or fries.
The BTL mashed potatoes are done with bacon, tomato and leeks. While the rice changes with the kitchen's whim, we had a nice spinach and garlic preparation. Mixed vegetables are also included.
A dolphin special ($32.95) features lightly blackened mahi. Scottish salmon ($27.95) is simply sauteed and cooked just the way we like it, undercooked by many measures.
Try the heats of palm salad ($12.95/$7.95 with entree) if you've never had them fresh. Hasis says they get the sable-palm logs from members of the same Seminole Tribe family who delivered them to her father. While the house-made dressing could use a bit more seasoning, I was intrigued with the meaty texture of the palm. There are also some very good bacon-wrapped scallops ($14.95/three per order) and a shrimp cocktail ($14.95) that could use a zippier cocktail sauce. Cap's is proud of the crab-cake appetizer ($15.95), but I wanted a more well-done exterior, which is hard to do when working with so little filler.
Every South Floridian should visit Cap's once. I'd go back for a taste of Old Florida with out-of-towners.
When I asked Hasis if she or her brothers — all in their 60s — have family waiting to take over, she said none of them have children. "I guess when they take us out horizontally, which is the only way we'll be leaving," she says, "that will be it."
2765 NE 28th Court, Cap's docks, Lighthouse Point
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Call for details
Parking: Free lot at dock