Nighttown is the only $3.5 million per year restaurant where "nobody eats the food," jokes owner Brendan Ring.
"What puzzles me is that we do 2,500 to 3,000 lunch and dinner covers per week," he says in response to the commonly held misconception that fans of the place come mainly for the drink and music.
That said, big changes are afoot at the legendary Cleveland Heights establishment. New chef Nathan Sansone, a graduate of Kendall College's School of Culinary Arts, has already begun revamping the menu — and he isn't through with it yet, says Ring.
"I hired him last year as a sous chef, but when I saw what I had on my hands I got rid of my old chef and promoted him," he explains. "He has already changed 30 percent of the menu and will change another 30 percent by summer."
Change at long-revered establishments like Nighttown is never taken lightly — because rarely is it ever received lightly by the clientele.
"It's a tough battle, I can tell you that," says Ring, who admits that he was compelled by customer uproar to return the baked potato to the menu. "But the reality of the situation is the world is changing, food is changing. I can sit here and pat myself on the back for the next 10 years and turn around one day and say, What happened? Or I can try and change before I need to."
New items include foie gras, wild mushroom and goat cheese tarts, lobster pot pie, braised Berkshire pork shank and market fish tacos. Items that do remain — the Dublin Lawyer, veal meatloaf, and bangers and mash — will see improvements thanks to better ingredients and technique.
Big changes are taking place off the menu as well, says Ring. Construction already has begun on the new Secret Garden, a $350,000, 75-seat outdoor dining room going in behind the restaurant. It will feature under-floor heating, fireplaces, and all-season protection.
The main driver, adds Ring, is the fact that Stephen's Green, the expansive main patio added 11 years ago, is perennially booked throughout the warm season with private parties.
"I want the garden to reflect some of the changes I'm trying to make with the food," says Ring. "I want folks to say, 'This is modern; this isn't what I normally think of Nighttown.' It starts the conversation flowing about our other changes."
Ring says he hopes to have the new patio in service by May 1.