I'm really into mom-and-pop joints, be they low-rent pho slingers on outer Sandy or homespun vegan food carts downtown. Located across the street from the North Portland library, Capuia's seems like such a place, with a soul-food-meets-African-food menu that has been altered to cater to the legions of vegetarians bicycling around the area.
To start, my group ordered fried okra, deliciously battered with a crispy cornmeal coating. This, we decided, would be good with the vegetarian spring rolls, despite the fact that spring rolls seemed a little out of place on the menu (but hey, if you have "International" in the name of your restaurant you can be as worldly as you want, right?) Unfortunately, the spring rolls were a little plain, with no sweet and sour or soy sauce offered to spice things up. Next came some sides of macaroni and cheese prepared traditionally and baked to perfection. Capuia's brand of mac and cheese is a far cry from yellowy Kraft, so don't freak out if it seems a little pale or has cottage cheese in it. It's good that way, trust me.
The entrees all come with two sides each, which are impressive meals in themselves. One could easily order two or even three sides and make a meal of it. The greens were tender and not too vinegary, and rather than stinking of meat, the red beans and rice filled the senses with peppery goodness. Cornbread also made a brief appearance and immediately disappeared into our stomachs. The rack of ribs my meat-loving friend ordered weren't the pork ribs she'd hoped for, but were instead beef. The sauce was dark with molasses and smoky, but the juicy promise of pork ribs haunted her and she never quite recovered from her shattering disappointment.
Meatless dishes fared better. The alicha is a vegetarian assemblage of Angolan origin that offers a standby Ethiopian trio consisting of carrot, potato, and cabbage cooked in a sauce that has a subtle buttery taste. This dish was supposed to be accompanied by injeera, but, disappointingly, none was included. Complimenting the alicha is the beef ecasa, essentially the same but with savory chunks of succulent, gristle-free beef. My catfish was also excellent. Coated with cornmeal and fried to just the right texture, it had a little snap to it and came in welcome abundance. The accompanying fries were of the factory crinkle-cut variety, and while edible, barely warrant a mention.
Capuia's promised peach cobbler, but they were out of it. My obvious sorrow was quickly dispersed, however, by the largest piece of sweet potato pie I've ever been served outside of someone's home. I've had better crust, but the filling was sublime. The concoction arrived with enough whipped cream to conceal a stripper.
While some of the oversights like the missing injeera and peach cobbler let me down a little, refreshingly, Capuia's doesn't try to be something it's not. At face value, it is what it is: a comfortable neighborhood place serving up food in a home-style manner. And whether your home is across the street or across the ocean, sometimes you just want to sit down and eat.