For the past year, partners Hunter Toth and Chaz Bloom have been working diligently to convert the old Fanucce's pizza shop (4125 Erie St.) in downtown Willoughby into Hook & Hoof
, a New American kitchen. The restaurant is on pace to open in about a month.
Chef Toth’s name might be familiar to diners in the Willoughby area thanks to his years working in local eateries like the Wild Goose and The Morehouse. He also spent time in the kitchens of Beach Club Bistro, Crumb and Spigot and Hyde Park, to name a few. Bloom is more of a front-of-house guy, having spent years working as a GM in Miami and New Orleans.
“I was always looking to do my own thing and then I met Chaz, and his passion and drive for the restaurant industry is right up there with mine,” Toth explains.
After looking at various properties around town, the two stumbled upon the 2,000-square-foot space in the heart of Willoughby.
“I walked in the building and immediately fell in love with the old brick and character,” Toth notes. “I had this idea to build an old New York or Boston-style restaurant, with a long and tall room. I didn’t want miles of square feet.”
Toth says that the construction process has been so time consuming because of the amount of work needed not only to bring the space up to modern standards, but also to improve it to the point of their own design standards. For years, the old space operated largely as a modest carryout pizza shop.
“We’ve really been trying to hide the buildout from the public because of what the building used to look like to what it is going to look like. To the eye that has seen it before it will be jaw dropping because of the transformation.”
The attractive 70-seat restaurant is broken up into well-defined spaces for the “speakeasy-style” bar, the dining area, and the open kitchen with chef’s table.
Toth says that the concept for the restaurant melds the experiences of his youth with his culinary travels through places like Texas, Boston and Chicago.
“Growing up in a family that had a grocery store, I was always surrounded by food and butchery,” he says. “I fell in love with not riding the wave of a trend; I wanted to create something timeless. I really love classic-style food and drinks. I’ll use all the techniques from butchers and fishmongers and all the ingredients that they would take home and translate them into timeless dishes using modern techniques and updated plating.”
Toth says that he is being careful to not out-chef the local clientele, which won’t be difficult considering that his culinary approach is grounded in tradition.
“In our town, I think people really value their hard-earned money, and if they don’t understand what they’re eating, that not coming in,” he says. “That’s just understanding your market. I think the menu that we’re creating will be super-approachable to not only people who wouldn’t call themselves foodies, but also I think foodies will appreciate that I’m using different parts of the animal that might not necessarily be done for dishes.”
An early draft of the menu shows starters like fish-cheek fish and chips, braised beef cheek toast with local goat cheese and sautéed wild mushrooms; smoked clams and mussels with chorizo and Negro Modelo broth; and mini crab potpies filled with fisherman’s chowder.
Possible main courses include braised short rib-stuffed shells, wild sockeye salmon with farro stew, pot roast with root veggies and horseradish crema, and Salisbury steak with truffle whipped potatoes.
Toth says that the cocktail program will be “second to none in our area,” built around the best available spirits and local accoutrements. A menu of nearly two dozen original concoctions joins a listing of a dozen classics done their way. The Ohio Mule pairs Stillwrights Bourbon from Dayton, Lairds Old Apple Brandy, housemade ginger syrup, fresh lime juice and ginger beer. The Cuyahoga Cider blends Tom’s Foolery Rye, local apple cider and fresh lemon juice. The Jaliscan combines Lunazul blanco tequila with Aperol, Lillet Blanc and a smoked salt rim.
You can meet chef Toth and sample some of his food at the upcoming Wholey Cow event
taking place later this month.