Heart of Hawaii in the Heart of Nashville

Heart of Hawaii in the Heart of Nashville
Words by Lucy Graves

Eating a different culture’s food can make you feel transported—to another place, time, or environment.

Chef Ryan Costanza has crafted a place meant to do just that—transport people to the vibrant shores of Hawaii. Housed at the Bento Hotel in Nashville, The Hart, a Hawaiian Izakaya, is exactly what you’re looking for if you seek to feel captivated by a meal. 

“Izakaya is essentially like a pub, almost thinking about it like a gastropub as to American burger bars,” said Costanza. The Hart is designed after a Japanese Izakaya, a place where drinks and small snacks are served in a casual environment. 

“If you go to Hawaii, there's Japanese cultural influence everywhere, you know, so that part just makes sense,” said Costanza. Hawaiian and Japanese cultures are intertwined in many ways, so this restaurant truly fits the mold of an Izakaya.

The Hart was created to be a space where patrons can come to eat, drink and stay for a while. Customers are encouraged to build out their night however they may choose—the experience is made to order. “You could have this experience where you spend $20 a person, or you could have this experience where you spend $300 a person,” said Costanza. 

The entire menu has front-to-back hits, ranging from the hand-crafted cocktails and beer options to the binchōtan (charcoal grill) selections and bento lunch combos. 

The drink menu at The Hart is refreshing and classic, adding to the overall experience. One of The Hart’s classic cocktails is their old fashioned, which utilizes shiitake-infused bourbon and Japanese black sugar.

Costanza earned his cooking stripes all over the world, fully preparing him for this role as well as his many other successful restaurants. “A lot of my really popular restaurants that I've done in the past have been very heavily Asian influenced. I've opened restaurants in Singapore, done a lot of work in Bali and Hong-Kong, and I cooked in Japan when I was young. That side of it is very fitting,” said Costanza.

His menu and food items show his expertise and thoughtfulness behind every dish. “If a dish does not just kind of slam on its own, then it doesn’t go on the menu,” said Costanza. "Every item is the best for different reasons, and there is something for everyone."

The Hart recently introduced a brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday from 9:30 am to 2 pm. The menu is limited, but jam-packed with brunch-inspired items such as a pitaya (fruit) bowl, smoked salmon toast, and breakfast fried rice. Common brunch dishes, such as avocado toast, are given new life at The Hart with a Hawaiian twist on things, creating a new and exciting dish in itself. 

The menu is already doing well, and continues to gain traction in Nashville. A few more items will be added soon, adding more flair and liveliness to an already panache menu. “It will stand out as a brunch that’s not like any other place doing brunch,” said Costanza. 

Costanza has created a restaurant unlike any other in Music City, using his expert cooking technique and his certification in sake and shochu. He has an eye for authentic cuisine that transcends others in the area. “I’m trying to transport people, right? When you come and eat here, and there’s good music on, the air is flowing through the restaurant and you start getting all of these small plates, it’s hopefully going to transport people. I want people to think, I could’ve had this same meal at a really nice restaurant in Hawaii,” said Costanza.

The Bento Hotel has scored big time with The Hart in its restaurant space, especially with Costanza sitting in the chef role. If you find yourself in Nashville looking for a place to stay—but most importantly, somewhere to eat—The Hart has a top spot on our list. Do yourself a favor and take a trip to Hawaii next time you're in Nashville.