Saturday, March 20, 2010
Arnold's Meatball Sandwhich in Downtown Cincinnati - Bring an Extra Napkin
How about a meatball sandwich in a 149-year-old bar in Cincinnati? Oh yea, and a beer to go with it and some very German potato salad. This place does exist, it is Arnold’s and all we are going to talk about is the meatball sandwich. Sure they have other dishes, but if you are reading this and you have not been there before then you can save them for your second visit because (did I mention?) you are having the meatball sandwich.
Spicy red sauce, which I suspect is good on the spaghetti and meatballs enjoyed by my friend, provolone, tender meatballs and lettuce. What? How dare you say lettuce on a meatball sandwich, but I do and the crispiness and crunch complete the sandwich and balance the salty tang of the meat and sauce. Before eating it, I would have said I need a toasted bun but Arnold’s does theirs soft and I am not going to argue. I really like when separate ingredients come together to create something greater than themselves, no one overpowering in taste or spice, and this sandwich did it for me.
Now, the potato salad. From this picture, you can see it is a simple side dish, which looks as though it was served from a vat with an ice-cream scoop of some sort. For the cooks in the back I am guessing it is a chore that some new guy has to make so they have enough for everyone. But this is a solid German-style potato salad that has to be a recipe from someone’s mom or grandma from the old country. Again simple ingredients of skin-on red potatoes, some mayo, some crunch (celery & onion?) salt and pepper. Melts in your mouth, the kind of dish you may almost forget about because it is satisfying without being brash or showy, kind of like that German grandma I suspect.
My other dining companion had the Greek Spaghetti (the house specialty), a take on Pasta Puttanesca, the whore’s pasta. I am guessing it is the house dish because Arnold’s use to be / be near a brothel as with many a “big city” watering hole in those days. I say a “take” but really, by definition, Puttanesca is comprised of whatever you have around which for many Italians was extra olives, capers, some peppers or tomatoes, olive oil and some salty cheese. This one is good and worth ordering if you like the dish.
Arnolds is nothing fancy to look at, on a side street near the ubiquitous P&G headquarters which dominates downtown Cincinnati. First thing you notice about Arnold’s walking through the swinging door is that this is a bar where you might feel comfortable whiling away a day (or two) just sitting. This skinny room with big bar gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like in the late 19th century with a few horses parked outside. (Do you park a horse?)
Walk around the side of the bar and the space opens up into a huge courtyard covered from the cold and heated on my visit in February. There is a stage for live music and when this place is full I am sure it is a very good time. I promise to visit in the summer and update this posting with some photos and stories about Cincinnati’s music scene.