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?

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