Hunter Toth has experienced firsthand how high turnover can be in the restaurant business.
The Hook & Hoof chef and co-owner has worked stints in the kitchens at the Morehouse, Beach Club Bistro, Crumb & Spigot and more. So he doesn’t take it for granted that most of the bartenders and waitstaff working at his downtown Willoughby restaurant haven’t changed in two years.
“We have been supremely fortunate,” the 36-year-old says. “The people we hire — they’ve got kids. They’ve got second jobs. But they take it just as seriously as we do.”
While Toth appreciates that stability, he’s not afraid to rock the boat by removing some items from the menu, which usually favors cuts of meat such as pork or elk chops, seafood, grains and daily specials that have fans stalking Hook & Hoof’s Instagram account.
“I can’t just cook beef cheek toast everyday of my life,” Toth laughs. “In Willoughby, that’s a hard thing to do because people really do love what they know.”
With a new spring/summer menu set to launch sometime this month, Toth is looking to keep going against the grain in Willoughby.
He’s still ironing out potential dishes, such as braised pork neck with an orchard fruit marinade or pickled shrimp served with avocado or hearts of palm.
A sweet, savory and summery chicken leg dish is accompanied by sunflower risotto and a rhubarb-and-strawberry butter.
“I love chicken myself,” Toth says. “But it has to be really good. A chicken leg has got skin, which can crisp up. It’s got some dark meat.”
But Toth isn’t completely abandoning menu items that have made Hook & Hoof an East Side go-to. The luxurious lamb belly meatballs ($13) and crowd-pleasing smoked clams and mussels ($15) with a coconut, beer and honey broth are sticking around.
“I really can’t take that off the menu,” he says. “It just draws people in, and we put a lot of love into it.”
4125 Erie St., Willoughby, 440-571-5312, hookandhoofdtw.com