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Monday, February 20, 2012
Captain America’s has seen off numerous culinary fads during four decades as a favourite of Norwich families. As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, SIMON PARKIN found nothing has changed.
Culinary tastes may come and go, new restaurants have opened, been revamped, changed hands and closed, but through it all, decade after decade, this institution continues to serve burgers, fries and shakes to the people of Norwich.
Captain America’s is a big part of the Norwich dining history, and most people have called in at some point since it opened in 1972. It used to serve up to 4,000 people a week, turning people away as the queues stretched to the market end of Exchange Street.
In fact it’s quite possible that someone who dined here back in their own childhood is now bringing their grand kids. Indeed they may have met their partner here as, speak to the 40-somethings among us and you’ll discover it was the hot place for a date back in the 1970s and 80s.
The place isn’t exactly what you’d call a cool cutting edge teen hang-out these days but Captain A’s still retains a faithful following and was completely full on the midweek night we visited.
Not a bad achievement when the freezing January streets were empty and several supposedly more with-it restaurants that we passed on route were notably less busy.
Its popularity is, of course, helped by the fact that you know exactly what you’re getting.
Burgers, steaks, BBQ ribs, fries, milkshakes, pecan pie and numerous other examples of culinary Americana have remained steadfastly popular and will probably remain so long after trendy newcomer dining trends, from Tapas to sushi, have fallen from favour.
Not much has changed inside either. Speaking as a relative Captain A’s novice — my first visit was a mere decade ago — it look exactly the same. The booth-style seating that was so trendy when they first appeared, the iconic Hollywood posters — the America Chevrolet crashing through the wall.
The lighting remains dim, the rock‘n’roll is loud and the portions are big — all just as the regulars like it.
Though it remains the same, it hasn’t gone to seed however. It would be easy for a place like this to become lazy, but it is well maintained, spotlessly clean and run like a military operation, with friendly, super-efficient service. Then again, they’ve had plenty of practice.
The menu has also remained pretty constant. Various examples from the decades are displayed on the walls and do make interesting reading — fancy a coffee for 11p or how about a burger for 40p? Those were the days!
Burgers now start at £6.75 for the celebrated Captain America’s Heavenly Hamburger which gives the restaurant its slogan. There are nine variations in total, taking in smokehouse BBQ, a mushroom sauce topped affair and a diet special, which seems to be a burger and salad, without the fries or bun (there’s the fun in that!). All come with a choice of quarter or half pounder.
Elsewhere are some real classics of the 1970s — steaks of various types, chill con carne, scampi and authentic US-style hot dogs. There is a kids menu but only a couple of options (veggie burger and pitta pockets) for vegetarians.
We opted for the chilli burger and BBQ spare ribs with sides of onion rings an coleslaw. The burger was thick and meaty (they cook to your order), though the chilli topping lacked a spicy punch. The ribs were succulent with a real smoky tang.
We enjoyed two thick and filling milkshakes that were a real blast from the past, and shared a decent tasting, if unspectacular American apple pie from a dessert choice that includes American favourites like cheesecake, maple walnut sundae and pecan pie.
The bill excludes service and, tongue-in-cheek they state on the menu they’ll accept dollars, traveller’s cheques and even bullion. Wonder if anyone has ever put that to the test?
There are surely few people in Norwich who haven’t paid at least one visit here, but if you’re one of the few never fallen under the power to Captain America — what are you waiting for? Then again, there is no need to rush; it’s not going anywhere soon.
Open: Mon 11.30am-4pm, Tues-Sat 11.30am-late, Sun 12pm-4pm
Prices: Burgers from £6.75, other mains from £7.60, desserts from £2.85
Vegetarian options: Fairly limited
Wheelchair access: Not easy, it’s on the first floor up a tight narrow staircase.