Let's get one thing clear-Rigsby's Kitchen slip from No. 2 to No. 4 on our Top 10 list this year has nothing to do with the quality of Rigsby's cuisine. The 27-year-old Short North restaurant is as wonderful as ever, continuing to evolve with the local dining scene and offering locally sourced, simply prepared and impeccably executed Italian fare.

Let's get one thing clear-Rigsby's Kitchen slip from No. 2 to No. 4 on our Top 10 list this year has nothing to do with the quality of Rigsby's cuisine. The 27-year-old Short North restaurant is as wonderful as ever, continuing to evolve with the local dining scene and offering locally sourced, simply prepared and impeccably executed Italian fare.

Each year, chef and owner Kent Rigsby seems to up his game. And in doing so forces other notable restaurants not to rest on their laurels either. The expanded cocktail menu and Bitter Tuesday program draw in discerning palates. A slow transition to an expanded antipasti selection means diners can enjoy a casual meal of under-$15 starters like Crispy Pork Belly, Beef Carpaccio or Roasted Beets if not in the mood for a $30 entree.

It's the small touches, that make the difference. It's in fresh, warm bread from their Eleni-Christina Bakery and iceless water in a reusable glass bottle. Rigsby read in article that room temperature water is better for digestion, so he ditched the 26-year-old ice water habit, for what he felt was a smarter choice. "It's hard to change old habits," he says, "but we're always trying to do that."

That passion for details is something Rigsby sees in his son, Forbes, who's worked his way from prep cook to a chef role over the past 10 years, helping to run the kitchen and working the line every night. In a conversation with Crave, the father-son culinary team share insight on the restaurant and their always-evolving inspiration.

Crave: How do you plan seasonal menus and specials?

Kent: There's discussion about things coming up and what's going to be good in season. I pretty much conceive the menu, but it's really a template. The real creativity comes in through the daily specials, conceived to promote the restaurant. We buy [what's fresh from local farmers], then figure out how to utilize it.

Forbes: It's really inspiring to have these local farmers stopping by at the back door. It's very personal.

Kent: With each season, there will always be something different. But there are certain dishes that can't change. Like the Capellini Natasha. We tried to take it off the menu…

Forbes: … And people revolted. The regulars have shown their obsession with it. I don't know what it is.

Kent: There's something about the flavor; there's that salty-sweetness. It just stuck.

Crave: Is there a dish you'd never take off the menu because you love it so much?

Forbes: The gnocchi Bolognese.

Kent: Oh, that's a great idea.

Forbes: The gnocchi themselves are made in-house, pillow-y soft gnocchi. Those are nicely balanced with the Bolognese sauce which is a combination of pork and beef from Sweet Meadows and …

Kent: … it's cooked for four or five hours, all the flavors are so integrated. It's the essence of simplicity. This combination of potato gnocchi, a really nice meat sauce, a little parmesan; it's just so simple. That's a dish I could eat any day of the week, all year long.

Crave: Kent, how would you describe Forbes and his style of cooking?

Kent: He's a seamless line cook. You throw anything at him and he's going to be able to turn out the product. Our chefs always work a station. And Forbes can do it better than anybody. Forbes grew up through the ranks, and he knows what works. He's able to put ingredients together in a way that surprises me. His creativity is coming.

Crave: How has Forbes influenced the menu?

Forbes: The Beef Carpaccio, for example. We had some leftover sweetbreads and leftover beef tenderloin. I seared the beef, sliced it and fanned it along the plate. Then I created a little arugula salad, garnished it with crispy fried leeks and some crispy sweetbreads pan-fried in a little bit of olive oil. That was just a special I came up with for one night. My dad loved it and it's now on the menu.

Crave: How have you adapted the restaurant to keep it current?

Kent: We worked hard on changing the way the menu's presented. And also expanding the antipasti category to create a real definitive list of small plates, things under $15. We've been evolving that for three or four or five years. It's the way the public is approaching food in general. The popularity of the bar, people eating in the bar…

Forbes: … When I go out to a restaurant, I don't like to order my first course and be stuck with my entree. I like to order some small plates, to order the diversity of the menu. You can do that here. You don't have to commit to ordering a $30 entree. You can come in and order three small plates for under $30. It makes things a little more causal.

Kent: It really reflects the way people's dining habits are changing.

Crave: Has that adaptability been the key to your success?

Kent: I feel it's important to try and reinvent ourselves within the restaurant, to keep trying to push the envelope. In the last five years, we made a conscious decision to cook food that's healthier. We cook only with extra virgin olive oil, even to sauté something. We haven't cooked a veal stock for maybe 10 years. What replaced it is true Italian cooking with fresh, great ingredients. We're making infused olive oils and citronettes, maybe a gastrique. It makes the food brighter and healthier without this big rich sauce thickened with butter.

Forbes: I have a lot of guests tell their server they don't want their dish cooked with any butter at all. And it's funny because I can tell the server I'm not using any. I'm using pure 100 percent olive oil.

#5 Till Dynamic Fare >>