As Willoughby becomes an East Side dining destination with options such as Brim Kitchen & Brewery, Sol and a Barrio outpost, there’s an opportunity for young chefs to fine-tune their culinary identities in the warm embrace of a welcoming suburb.
At Hook & Hoof, 35-year-old Hunter Toth tinkers with ideas of family, tradition and comfort food. “It’s crafted around my growing up in a grocery store and all my love for seafood and meat,” says Toth, whose grandparents owned a grocery in Euclid.
His menu reads like a love letter to his childhood with dishes that are at once familiar and unexpected, such as the short rib-stuffed shells ($24), filled with tender meat and house-made Boursin cheese.
That sense of wonder reveals itself even more in Toth’s entree specials. With a knack for using game meats such as rabbit, elk and duck, Toth shows growth and depth on recent renditions including a braised lamb shank paired with red cabbage slaw, warm German potato salad, goat-cheese-and-chive creme fraiche, and lamb gravy.
Those specials come to fruition on a lab board, where staff can post thoughts and emails and workshop ideas. “Being able to create new dishes and plate them certain ways,” he says, “it just fuels that artistic ability.”
The cocktail menu is just as imaginative. Sip on the Black Flag ($12), a deeply layered drink that comes together with Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Averna Amaro, black cherry liqueur and Aztec chocolate bitters. 4125 Erie St., Willoughby, 440-571-5312, hookandhoofdtw.com