Review: Arnold’s

Arnold‘s is Cincinnati’s oldest operating bar, dating back to 1861, back when bier halls ruled the Cincinnati landscape. It’s a cool place– if you squint just a little, you can almost see how it was back in the 1860s, with the original, intricately carved bar and green and white awning. It has great atmosphere, that’s undeniable. And the courtyard, on a nice spring evening like we had last Saturday, is the perfect place to have a few drinks with friends. This was my third visit. The first was a date back in 1999, with a guy who just moved here from Chicago, and though born in Mason and raised Catholic, fancied himself a sort of Woody Allen in training. I remember I had some sort of vegetarian pasta (I was in a brief vegetarian phase) and my date requested that the piano player play a song for me. It was, I remember, “The Way You Look Tonight”, which is still one of my favorites. I was also easily impressed. I’m pretty sure he dumped me shortly thereafter, and I think it had something to do with “not being over” his last girlfriend. I used to get that a lot. The second time was last summer and it was average. This time, it was selected based on proximity to The Blue Wisp, where a few friends and I had decided we needed to go to the last time we all went out for dinner.

Our friends, Tracy and Ted, were running late, so Jay, Ron, Terry and I had drinks and ordered an appetizer: fried green tomatoes. We were hungry, and they were pretty good– cornbread crusted, served with a spicy mayonnaise.

Yes, kids, that’s all that was left before I realized that we needed to take a picture.

Arnold’s has a new chef, so she has been putting out a “weekend” menu to accompany the regular menu. Tracy and Ron ordered from the regular menu, and Ted, Terry, Jay and I tried some selections from the new menu. I didn’t ask each of them their opinion, as I think I weirded them out enough by taking the pictures (and none, except Ron, are into blogs), so you’ll mostly get Terry and my opinion on this dinner, but pictures of everything.

Each of the new menu items was served with “Italian Slaw”. I have no idea what was italian about it. It was decent– a very vinegary dressing served over cole slaw mix– but tasted pretty much like a cold hot slaw, without the bacon.

Terry got the Mediterranean Chicken, which was chicken in a tomato and cream sauce with some olives. He said it was okay, but nothing he couldn’t have made at home. The bite I had seemed a little uninspired.

I got the Java Pork. I really like the trend of coffee and pork. However, this tasted like someone took day-old coffee grounds and rubbed it all over the pork tenderloin, then tossed it in the oven and forgot about it. Is that harsh? I could overlook the far too coarse grind of the coffee and just scrape it off if the pork hadn’t been like shoe leather. I ate about two bites of the pork and concentrated on the horseradish mashed potatoes (which were not horseradishy) and the green beans, which were garlicky and not overcooked, thus good. The dijon sauce that tops the pork was also okay, if a little too creamy in an artificial, out-of-the-jar way. I also thought the plates were huge– which lead to a pretty unattractive presentation. I’m also not a fan of the ice-cream-scoop school of potato portions, as it reminds me far too much of high school lunches. That’s the last thing I want to be reminded of on a Saturday night.

Ron got the Greek pasta, a favorite of his. He deemed it good.

Ted got the salmon en papillote, which he said was nice– the salmon wasn’t overcooked, and the vegetables were nicely done. So far, we’re a sad 1/3 for the “new” menu.

Tracy really liked her muffaletta, but could barely finish it– it was huge!

And Jay said that if he was going to appear on a blog, he’d better do something memorable. He ordered the fish sandwich, which seemed sort of lackluster. I didn’t get his opinion of it, but on appearances, it didn’t impress.

Arnold’s still has great atmosphere. It seems like the best option, if you’re going to eat there, is to order off of the “old” menu. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s certainly not bad. I’ll go back for drinks and appetizers — how can you pass up having a drink at a bar that outlived Prohibition?

Arnold's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

  • The Phantom

    I’m with you on on oversized plates and ice-cream scooped potatoes. In fact, when I see scooped potatoes, I think “cheap” like they are trying to make sure I don’t get more than they calculated I should…which makes me wonder where else they skimped on my meal.

  • Jaime

    Every time I’ve eaten at Arnold’s I’ve felt like the food was lacking, its a fun place with a good atmosphere to go have a few beers but I don’t go there to eat anymore.

  • Cin Twin1

    I have only eaten there one time and ordered a hamburger. The atmosphere is nostolgic, but I think I will deem it as a place to get a drink and NOT a meal.

  • Chris S

    Arnolds is just fine for some snacks, and a beer. But a fine dining experience it is not. I never go with high expectations of the food, so I am never disappointed ;)

  • vudutu

    It’s good bar food, the Greek pasta rocks. I would rather go there than a chain, the best part is, no ?!$^#%7 TV

  • Julie

    I’d totally rather go there than a chain. And I figured, vudutu, that you’d like the Greek pasta.

  • liberal foodie

    Sadly, I’ve never been there. I’ve also heard bad reviews about their food. I’ll go in one of these days for beer and fried green tomatoes though. mmmm

  • 5chw4r7z

    I have to agree with you, we ate at Arnolds two years ago and I was a tiny bit upset about the quality and quantity of food vs. how expensive it was. I don’t totally hate chains, they have thier place, that said I’d take a Big&Tasty over Arnolds. I was starting to consider giving it another go, but I’m glad you saved me money.
    Thanks Winemedineme! ;-D
    Awesome place for a beer though.

  • Julie

    Upon further thought (and some discussion with Terry), I think I’d rather go to a “high end” chain than Arnold’s. If you offered me a free meal at McCormick and Schmicks or a free meal at Arnold’s– I’d take M&S in a heartbeat.

  • liz

    i agree w/ everyone. arnold’s is a good place to go for drinks but the food generally sucks. i think once i had a good spinach and artichoke dip there, but ordered the same dish a few other times and it was bland and boring. another time i had lunch there and everything on the plate was tan and square… gross.

  • vudutu

    Sorry to hear. I don’t get there as much any more but I have never had an issue, I had the Greek pasta fall and it was good, last couple of times I was in for lunch, had a fish sandwich and it was OK.

  • Jackie Danicki

    Sorry, but if a chain nails what they do, they deserve my money more than a business that thinks it is entitled to my custom by mere virtue of being independent. It’s a fiercely competitive marketplace out there, and patronizing sub-standard establishments because they’re locally owned doesn’t do any favors for local *customers* or the businesses themselves, in the long term. “Innovate or die” is a message that doesn’t get through when people are caught up in a feel-good fug of righteous spending. Thus, the likes of Arnold have little reason to improve upon their culinary offering, because people will show up and eat anyway. “Hey, it’s not a chain!” Yes, and it also sucks – thanks to enabling customers.

    That said, Arnold’s has a great atmosphere, and part of the huge disappointment with them is that the potential is massive. I mean, it’s not hard to do a good burger. It’s not difficult or expensive to produce a killer French onion soup (indeed, that sort of thing is a kitchen manager’s dream, as it can be partly prepared ahead of time with no adverse effect on the quality of the result). Don’t try to get fancy with provincial ideas of “gourmet” platings and dishes. The really valuable local angle would be to just do straightforward, solid food that people around here love. Maybe someday they’ll get it.

    (If this comment wasn’t so long, I’d tell you about the time the manager at Arnold’s scolded Joe Wessels, loudly and nastily, because the waitress messed up his order. I haven’t been back since I saw that dramatic display of customer disservice.)

  • Julie

    That’s pretty awful, Jackie. I try really hard to support independents, as you can tell– but that said, if a restaurant does business just because they’ve been around for 140 years, and not because the food is edible (that pork was AWFUL), that’s not great either. If they did a killer burger, sandwiches, salads and soup, it would be great. That said, the night we were there, it wasn’t busy at all– so maybe people are getting the idea that the food isn’t fantastic.

    As far as chains I do like, I like McCormick and Schmick’s, Rusty Bucket, City Barbecue– they tend to be smaller (Applebee’s? Blech!) and do what they do right.

  • Chris

    Julie, you should give Arnold’s another try. They have done a complete 180 with their menu. I would still recommend the Greek spaghetti though, I have been eating them my whole life and have never been disappointed. Go with what you know.

  • http://arnoldsbarandgrill.com Ronda Androski

    I would hope all of you would give Arnold’s another try. I have taken over the kitchen and we are staying close to good comfortable food at reasonable prices. Also note if there is something you don’t think is up to a standard you are expecting please let me know and I will make it right. I understand this blog is about doing a review on food and you are trying to make this the best blog you can. I hope you understand I own Arnold’s and everyday I try to make it the best place it can be. Ronda Androski/Proprietor

  • Les

    I don’t think so Ronda. I had the WORST dining experience EVER at your restaurant. Not only did it take over 2 hours for dinner, you ran out of what I ordered. When I finally did get some food, it was cold, prepared incorrectly and had a hair in it. Funny how my complaints seemed to go nowhere. You had a chance to make it right and didn’t- not even an apology. In fact, you KNEW there was a problem and you seemed to specifically avoid me. I won’t ever go back, and I tell everyone I know not to go there. I’ve had bad experiences elsewhere, but nothing like Arnolds. Crap food, crap service, crap establishment.

  • http://arnoldsbarandgrill.com Ronda Androski

    Les,
    If you would like to talk about this further please contact me at 513-421-6234. If I am not available please leave a message and I will contact you back.
    In respect to the owner of this blog, it was not my intention to start something with my post. It was to ask you to give us another try. Your blog is about your opinion and I respect that.
    I can say I have never made anyone wait over 2 hours for their dinner. Nor have I ever not dealt with a customers situation when I have been made aware of it. I know I don’t always get it right but I do know I will always Make it right.