Steve-O’s Italian Kitchen is now open in Clifton in the longtime home of Cliftons Pizza. Based on an early look-in, purists are going to feel at home in the new establishment.
A new, red awning has replaced the faded blue one that adorned the building previously, but inside the restaurant is divided the same way it always has been, with the main entrance opening into a narrow bar area, and the larger dining room portioned by a wall.
The smaller room features the familiar mural on one wall, plus the bar in the back, original tin ceilings and a cleaner general appearance. The collection of quirky clocks that once hung on the wall and gave Cliftons part of its vibe have given way to virtually unadorned, beige walls.
In the main dining room, visitors will notice a brighter atmosphere in general to go with bright, red-and-white tablecloths on all tables. New wood floors in both areas accentuate the brighter feel to the place.
The antique mirror bar at the opposite end of the stage is still there, as well.
One key feature to the room is a projector that will be able to show games in a roughly 10-foot image on a side wall. Add to this several new flatscreen TVs, and Steve-O’s transforms into a hybrid sports bar and pizzeria.
When Cliftons owner Mark Langley abruptly announced last year he was closing the beloved restaurant he opened in 1990, it certainly signaled the end of an era, but Steve-O’s owner Steve Tingle saw it as the perfect opportunity and location, so he struck.
While the doors opened in mid-February, almost no promotion has happened. In an interview with Insider Louisville, Tingle said that was by design, to allow the staff to get up to speed slowly.
In addition, the kitchen was expanded and redesigned, with a brand new pizza oven installed, and he said getting used to cooking with a new oven is a process in itself.
But for the most part, he said, the gradual start has gone well.
“So far, I feel like we’ve been pretty well-received,” said Tingle, who opened the original Steve-O’s in La Grange in 2005. “We’ve had some people come in and say, ‘Oh, you’re not Cliftons.’ You just have to kind of manage expectations.”
In addition to the kitchen reconfiguration, Tingle created a new dishwashing room and added a flat grill and fryers, and he installed the new oven closer to the pizza-making bench to better facilitate the kitchen process at the restaurant.
Adding the fryer and flat grill helped to expand the menu to fried appetizers like house-made mozzarella sticks, wings, calamari and more. And more than a dozen pasta dishes range from classic spaghetti and meatballs to baked ziti to fettuccini carbanaro or shrimp tortellini.
Throw in parmigiana dishes, Stromboli sandwiches and calzones, and you could almost forget the pizza, which is sold in four sizes, either build your own or signature, such as buffalo chicken or chicken bacon ranch.
Tingle said the best-seller so far at the new Clifton location is Ray’s Favorite, which was named after his late father, as it was his favorite. The pizza is topped with pepperoni, jalapeno peppers and slices of house-made meatballs.
Prices top out at around $15.
“I’ve sold more of those since I’ve been down there than I’ve sold in six months at the other store,” he said. “I guess people like it spicy down on Frankfort Avenue. Maybe it’s my dad sending me customers, I don’t know — divine intervention.”
Tingle also said live music will return March 20 with solo artist Robby Cox. Happy hour specials and delivery service also will be added in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Tingle hopes customers will be patient as the business and staff “get our training wheels off. All together, I think it’s going to be something pretty nice.”
Steve-O’s Italian Kitchen, located at 2230 Frankfort Ave., is open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.