Another Friday family fun night, and I’ve struck out a few times lately, much to my own embarrassment. I was also informed that my husband’s grandmother would be joining us, and her very discerning tastes frequently limit our mutual dining options to only the best places that serve crabcakes. So I knew I was under pressure to choose a crowd-pleaser.
Ari’s Diner in Ivy City checks all the boxes: inexpensive (you’re welcome, in-laws!), healthy-ish options for me, crabcakes for grandma, and adult milkshakes that excited the menfolk! And, as luck would have it, they were offering a nightly special of fried chicken with mashed potatoes and spinach which is basically my mother-in-law’s three favorite things put on one plate. I’m not sure how their chef divined that we would be coming, but it’s like they somehow knew.
Sadly, Ari’s Diner was basically a ghost town when we got there. We walked in just behind a family with two small children and that made…nine of us total in the restaurant. There were actually more staff working than customers. This merits some side-eye, especially considering that next door, La Puerta Verde was hopping, so this isn’t just some Ivy City thing. Drink options were limited to the most basic of beers and “house” wines (from the House of Trader Joe?) so my husband and father-in-law were positively forced against their will to order alcoholic milkshakes. As my father-in-law had arrived a whopping two minutes ahead of us, he naturally received his special-order vanilla-bourbon-cookie milkshake before my husband’s Mexican chocolate malt. The result was this:
I appreciate that these shakes were a completely reasonable, if all too easy to down in one gulp, size, unlike Ted’s Bulletin. I did not appreciate what felt like a lack of exciting milkshake options. Come on, guys, how hard is it to throw a banana in there? The Mexican chocolate shake was more chocolate than Mexican but at the end of the day, it’s still ice cream and liquor together in a perfect symphony of bad decisions.
Ari’s Diner serves breakfast all day, which is nice, although I’m not really a breakfast person. This meant that grandma, for whom I had chosen this restaurant specifically, completely neglected crabcakes in favor of a Western omelet. Turns out she adores Western omelets more than crabcakes. Huh. My father-in-law ordered the Greek omelet, and my husband, not to be outdone and with all breakfast options available, picked up the French toast monte cristo. I ordered the turkey sandwich with a side salad, and, since the option was there, asked that the sandwich be topped with runny eggs, natch. The menu advertised that this sandwich came with Fontina cheese on “pullman bread.” I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded fancy, so…
It turns out that “pullman bread” just means white bread. Regular, from a plastic bag white bread. This was sad. I also really strongly doubt the authenticity of this so-called Fontina cheese, which looked and tasted much more like white American cheese than any creamy, stinky European original.
The pros of this sandwich included tasty turkey, of which I’m not usually a big fan, a lot of veggies, a nice and clearly house-made mustard vinaigrette on the salad, and ample avocado. By the end I was just scraping sandwich fixings off the boring bread and sopping up egg yolk with my turkey. This was the way to go.
The monte cristo was a solid plate of greasy goodness served with maple syrup. My husband loved it, although I think it would work better at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning after a serious bender.
My mother-in-law was extremely happy with her fried chicken. Actually, “extremely happy” is a bit of an understatement. She was ecstatic over this. The mashed potatoes had a few solid chunks of potato left in them, which lends to their credibility as home-cooked. The chicken was exceptionally moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. The spinach was definitely fresh, but fairly boring and under-seasoned. It was green, though. Perhaps this was its only purpose.
I have to admit that I didn’t try either of the omelets because their owners were pretty defensive of them. Perhaps the biggest endorsement of the western omelet was the fact that grandma actually FINISHED it and, like I said before, she is a niche connoisseur.
Price: $20 per person.
Bottom line: All in all, Ari’s Diner is less of the Ted’s Bulletin knockoff that I thought it would be, and more of, like, an actual diner. My biggest suggestions for improvement are a) better bread, b) more milkshake flavors, and c) more customers. They are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. which I feel like is missing a massive opportunity to be Northeast DC’s premier drunk food depot (especially considering their prime location across the street from a distillery and a shitty hipster bar). Check it out if you started drinking at 9 a.m. and need your hangover food extraordinarily early, or if you are hanging out with your friends who want brunch but refused to get a babysitter.