Meet You At Arni’s

Meet You At Arni'sPizza might be the greatest thing to ever happen to food. Think about it for a second. Not only can you get any number of toppings on your pizza, you have so many different restaurants serving it up. From Pizza Hut to Papa John’s, there are so many choices. There are also smaller places serving up these pizza pies. Places like Mellow Mushroom and Arni’s Restaurant even put their own little twist on pizza. I recently had the chance to visit Arni’s here in Indianapolis.

Being overweight has its perks. Besides the fact that I can eat just about anything I want, I get to indulge every now and again. That is what I did when I visited Arni’s Restaurant. My date and I had reservations for 7:00 PM but we arrived a little early. We had been out running errands and figured we would just head on over. Before we walked in, while sitting in the parking lot, I grabbed my phone to check in on the popular social networking site foursquare. Before I could get to my location, I noticed they had free Wi-Fi. I hadn’t even stepped foot inside the restaurant and they were already off on the right track.

Speaking of the free Wi-Fi, I would later learn that Arni’s is now doing online ordering. So not only can you go in for lunch or dinner and enjoy your meal in their restaurant, you can just hop online and order your pizza, subs, sandwiches, and more. It is nice to be able to have that option. It saves time, money, and allows me to order on my schedule. I wish that more places would start using online ordering. Consider Arni’s to be a thought leader in that regard.

Before I get into the food, let’s chat a bit about the history of the place. Arni’s was actually started a long time ago by a man named Arni Cohen. The first Arni’s Restaurant opened way back in 1965 and they have been growing ever since. As a matter of fact, when the first location opened, it could seat one hundred and twenty guests. Now, after several expansions on the property, the same restaurant can seat five hundred.

Later, after seeing so much success from the restaurant, Arni felt that he was spending too much money on food costs. So he developed Linarco Distributing as a way to have a little more control over the ingredients he used and the distribution of those ingredients. Since this venture began many years ago, they have begun shipping and servicing many Arni’s locations as well as other local stores and restaurants.

Back in 1992, Arni’s son joined the team. His job was to increase sales for the restaurant, and to begin opening more locations. Since then, nine Arni’s Restaurants have opened in and around the city of Indianapolis, with eight of those locations still open to this day. Arni was able to see his business grow, and while I am sad to say that he passed away back in 2002, his legacy still lives on and I am excited to be able to share my experience with you here today.

When you first walk in to the restaurant, two or three happy and smiling hostesses will greet you. It is a warm welcome that makes you feel right at home. You might notice, when looking at the Arni’s logo on the building and the menu, that it says, Meet you at Arni’s. From the atmosphere inside to the staff on duty, you truly do feel that you could just call up some friends and meet for a drink, an appetizer, or a full meal.

We were taken, even though we were early, to our table in the bar. We had a booth that could seat up to six people, but the table would soon be filled with food so it would be all right. Josh, the witty and talented bartender for the evening, was actually our server as well. He was nice, created a lot of conversation throughout the evening, and was quick to ask if everything was okay if we seemed sluggish.

As a matter of fact, Josh began the evening, after grabbing us a couple of waters, by asking us if we were allergic to any certain foods. He said that the menu for the evening was already planned out, but he wanted to make sure that we could enjoy everything that we would later consume. It was a nice touch, and one that I had never experienced before while dining out.

Our dinner reservations were on a Saturday night, and by the time we got there a little before 7:00 PM the place was pretty busy. You could see plenty of servers hustling around the restaurant and coming in and out of the kitchen carrying plates. It actually made me think of when I used to be a server. It didn’t matter which restaurant I worked at, all of the managers would always say, “Make sure you are full hands in, full hands out.” That means that you have your hands full when you walk into the kitchen, and when you leave. It didn’t matter if you were bussing tables or carrying ice to the server stations, your hands always needed to be full.

I said before that there are now eight locations in the state of Indiana. We visited the location on 96th Street, just before you get to Scotty’s Brewhouse going west. When you are going west on 96th, on your way to Arni’s, make sure you turn before you get to the restaurant, because if you miss it you are going to have to make a u-turn at the next light. There is no direct entrance to the restaurant headed west. I learned that the hard way.

After we sat down, our server then began to explain the evening to us. He said that we would be getting a lot of food sent out and that he would do his best to match each and every item with something from the bar. He claimed he was a master at making martinis, and he said we were in for a treat. I was ready to get this show on the road. (I had been to Arni’s in the past, and was never disappointed. I knew it was going to be good!)

Kicking Things Off

The first thing to hit the table was their Magnificent Mushrooms. These little guys are huge, and come in a bowl served with a spoon for your convenience. These are fresh mushroom caps stuffed with a cream cheese, sausage, onion, and spices blend and then baked. And when I say baked, I mean baked to perfection. These little guys smelled good and tasted even better. They were sprinkled with even more spice and hit the table steaming hot. And I would much rather eat these hot because it keeps all of the flavors together nicely. After a few bites, I began to get more mushroom flavor than anything else. The stuffing is great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted more of it and less mushroom. The caps were huge, but a lot of the flavor was boring. You better like mushrooms if you order these. They are good, and I would even consider this one of their signature appetizers.

To drink, we were served two different martinis. The first was a homemade Savannah Peach Martini. This, like most of the drinks we would later consume, were created by Josh. He claims to have been the creator of over one hundred different martinis and has studied drink recipes for years. His résumé proves it. I asked him how many restaurants he has worked at and he said the list of places he has not worked at would be shorter.

The drink, when it first hit the table, looked thick and almost like a smoothie rather than a martini. And it was, in fact, quite thick upon tasting it. The drink calls for heavy cream and it shows when it hits your lips. But it is so good. The flavors in this drink reminded me of an orange popsicle or something similar. It made me feel like summer, sitting outside with my pinky in the air drinking my adult beverage every so delicately. And you might not think so, but the peach flavors went quite well with the mushroom caps.

The next drink I did not like as much. It was called the Blue Raspberry Martini and tasted almost rushed. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable – it was, but it was boring compared to the first one. This drink was indeed blue, and you could taste that it had more alcohol in it. It almost reminded me of Kool-Aid for a moment. It drinks very smooth as well, even through that heavy alcohol taste, and surprisingly went well with the mushroom caps too. I would not order one, but am glad I got to try more than one martini from this master of drinks.

Trying to Eat Healthy

Now it was time for a salad to try. Out came the Arni’s Famous Jr. Salad. And yes, it is famous. And yes, it is delicious. This salad, after you have eaten it once, will give you cravings late at night for another bite. Not to mention the five dressings that are all made in-house that you can order with it. But really, this salad is incredible. It is so good that I wish we had just been served this and a gallon of dressing.

The salad is served with lettuce, turkey, ham, and mozzarella cheese and garnished with green onions, croutons, and radishes. You even get a thick slice of garlic bread on the side of the bowl to help you scoop up the last bite. And out of everything on this salad, the only thing I picked off was the radishes. Never been a fan of these, and probably never will. But when you see this salad, you just want to hang out with it for a minute. It’s that pretty and it tastes so much better than it looks.

The dressings made their way to the table next. First we had the bleu cheese, then the thousand island, the herb vinaigrette (think balsamic), celery seed (does not taste like celery at all) and the sweet and tangy French. This dressing alone could be a meal. I am telling you people, the French dressing on the Arni’s Famous Jr. Salad will be my last meal. Epic would be the only word you could use to describe this salad. All right, enough about the salad. (If you want to get a slightly larger salad, for just a couple of bucks more you can order an Arni’s Famous Senior Salad. This is the same great salad, just served in a larger bowl.)

With our salads we were served a couple of glasses of wine. First was the house cabernet. Next came the house Pinot Grigio. Nothing special here, a house wine is a house wine. However, after taking a few sniffy sniffs (you can thank Gary Vaynerchuk for that one), I was intrigued. The wines, from the nose to the finish, were much deeper than a typical house wine. A lot more body in the cabernet and a crisp, almost pepper after taste with the Pinot made me want another glass! Considering these are around $5 a glass, they make for a nice choice before your meal, after your meal, and even during.

Time for the Good Stuff

It was now time for the entrees! This is my favorite part of any meal. The first thing to hit the table was their famous (they have a lot of famous menu items it seems) pizza. Remember I talked about how much I liked pizza? This is why I came – this right here! It was even my favorite, a supreme. The more toppings you can pile on top the better. I love the meats, the cheeses, and the veggies just the same.

The pizza was their seven inch version (also served in ten and fourteen inch pies), which is perfect for lunch if you are in a hurry, or even for dinner with a side Jr. salad. We were also served two sandwiches. The first was the hot Sicilian served with sweet potato fries. The other was their Havana stack with onion straws. As Sheryl and I sat there staring at all this food, already starting to get full from the appetizers, salad, and drinks, we crossed our fingers and dug in.

I started with the pizza. I have to tell you, the pizza is not typical. The crust is thin (which I usually hate) and it gives you a familiar taste that you wouldn’t associate with pizza necessarily. Do you remember the little pizzas you used to get growing up that came in the red box and took maybe five minutes in the microwave and ten in the oven? If you don’t know what I am talking about, never mind. But if you do, then this is what you are reminded of. I don’t care what you say, those pizzas are good. And this one not only tastes like that childhood memory, it takes it to a whole new level. Oh so good.

By the time I had eaten half of the pizza, I had almost forgotten there were two huge sandwiches waiting for me. I started by grabbing a handful of the sweet potato fries. Wow is about all I can say about those. Just wow. They are truly that good. I have heard good things about the sweet potato fries at Scotty’s Lakehouse, but I don’t know if they can stack up to these suckers.

The sandwich was good but it was almost too much. This sandwich had ham, salami, pepperoni, onions, banana peppers, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, lettuce, tomato, and was topped with a good helping of sun-dried tomato dressing. By the time you take a bite you are confused to what you are even eating. But in my first bite, I got a ton of banana pepper and an over load of ham and pepperoni. But the second bite gave me a hint of the dressing and a more subtle, bread-heavy flavor. Each bite tasted different and was based on where you are in the sandwich. It was good, but I’m not sure I would order it. Maybe just an order of the sweet potato fries!

The other sandwich was about the same in terms of enjoyment. This is Arni’s version of a Cuban sandwich and is a pile of pulled pork, sliced ham, provolone cheese, yellow mustard, mayonnaise, and pickles. But what made this sandwich unique was the mustard. This is not your momma’s mustard. This stuff is fire in your mouth. Holy crap is this stuff hot. And oh so good. It is stone ground, and tastes like there is a heaping pile of peppers in every bite. My eyes were watering after the first, second, and third bite and all I wanted was more of that mustard. I have heard warnings about their signature mustard, and I must say, it is true. It’s hot and I like it.

Leave Room for the Sweet Stuff

I am out of room by this time. I can’t eat another bite. Oh yeah, we have dessert coming. Like I have room for ice cream. Well, I guess there is always room for ice cream. But we didn’t start there, we started behind the bar. First up was a drink titled The Toffee. It was a hot beverage, which I dislike right off the bat, and was said to taste like toffee. Go figure, hence the name. It’s not coffee…it’s toffee. And it was good, after it cooled down, but not something I would ever order. It fits more into the hands of a female if you ask me.

Being the martini master that he is, next came a Cappuccino Martini. There are two versions of this, one made with Godiva Light and the other made with Godiva Dark. This one was made with Godiva White. The drink was a lot prettier than it tasted. It was terrible. And I am not trying to degrade his ability to make a martini, but this tasted more like water than it did a martini. It was boring, bland, and quite frankly weak on every accord. I had Sheryl taste it, and she said the same. We drank half, and left it for the birds.

Out came the desserts. First was the apple pie ala mode. See, I told you there would be ice cream. Next to that was a huge slice of red velvet cake. He sat down two spoons and we were off. I started with the red velvet cake and about threw up when I took my first bite. I took a second just to see if there was something wrong with the first one, but no, the cake was just bad. I pushed it to the side for Sheryl to try. She takes one bite, and was in love. She finished the whole thing up. But she, at the same time I pushed the red velvet to the side, tossed the apple pie to the side. So I took a stab at that. Now that is what dessert is supposed to taste like. The ice cream matched with the apples and the pie crust was a perfect way to end my meal. And it was a good thing it was over, I was stuffed. There wasn’t room for another bite.

Arni’s might not be the best restaurant in Indianapolis, but it is one of my favorites. They take simple things, like a slice of pizza or a piece of pie, and make it their own. You have a ton of talent behind the bar, years of experience in the kitchen, and an undying passion from every server walking the floor. In speaking with the general manager after our meal, it became evident that this is not a job for these people. It is fun, enjoyable through and through, and something that everyone working there looks forward to.

I could not have been happier when I left there. We waddled our way to the car and headed home for a night lounging and relaxation. Arni’s is a great place for a lunch meeting, a dinner date, or just a beer after work. I have been to Arni’s before, and I will definitely go again. It was too good not to. I need more of that French dressing and that Jr. salad! Thank you to everyone at Arni’s Restaurant, it was a pleasure working with such a fine establishment like yours. I look forward to seeing you all at Arni’s soon.

Have you been to Arni’s? What did you order? Did you have a good experience?