My grandfather was always a traditionalist when it came to the plating of his food. While I took him to many of the newer and swankier restaurants while he was still alive, invariably his biggest complaints never centered around the flavor of the food, but the complexity with which the food was arranged on the plate. He simply failed to comprehend that modern day chefs are concerned as much with the visual presentation of the food as to its taste. I don't know if my grandfather came from a time when presentation wasn't as critical or if that was just how he was hard-wired, but more than once I entertained the question, "Why can't they just put the steak on one plate and the side on another?"
It seems that there are still a few stalwarts out there that cater to this plating whim. Diamond Grille in downtown Akron, Ohio is one of them. Another, much less commonly known steak house is Arnie's on State Route 14 in Ravenna, Ohio. Nestled in amongst the lakes in the West Branch National Park region, Arnie's Steak House represented an era when decor took second fiddle to the food. That's not to say that Arnie's didn't have ambiance. It just didn't represent the sparkly, whiz-bang architecture of modern eateries.
Arnie's was located at 5343 Oh-14, Ravenna, OH 44266 and can be reached at 330-297-1717. There was no website associated directly with the restaurant at the time of this writing. Parking was in a lot just outside of the restaurant. One thing that can always be said about Arnie's was how quickly they fill up for dinner. Tonight I decided to go during the Early Bird hours (4:30-6:00 PM) in order to hopefully avoid the crowds.
Here was a shot of the sign that was visible from State Route 14:
As much as the outside of the building was nothing particularly noteworthy, the inside was equally as barren. In fact, as you'll see in most of the following photographs, it was quite dim inside, as if they were trying to de-emphasize your surroundings. Given the decor that existed inside Arnie's, it looked as if it hasn't been redecorated in decades. That being said, I was here to evaluate the food, not whether the white tablecloth was spotless (which didn't really apply since there weren't any tablecloths on any of the tables ... plain green paper placemats were all that adorned each tabletop).
Here was a shot of the Early Bird menu:
While I am always a fan of getting to try out a restaurant's food at either a reduced portion size or price, tonight I was here for Arnie's signature item, a steak, and the Early Bird menu just didn't seem to deliver in that department. Instead, I decided to focus my attention on their regular dinner menu:
Interestingly enough, specific items listed on the menu are demarcated with a small leaf to indicate that they are signature items. What surprised me was that while the Ribeye steak had this symbol next to it, none of the other cuts of steak did. When I asked my server about it, she seemed confused and had no idea why one steak would have it and none of the others. She assured me that all of the steaks were Arnie's specialties. Appetizers were available, but I decided that I wasn't super hungry tonight, so I didn't order one (even though the onion rings were also marked as a specialty). I decided to go with a Petit Filet tonight. The menu didn't list how big most of the steaks actually were, so I'm guessing that based on what I was served, it was more than likely between five and six ounces, which would be in-line with other steak houses. This also led to me to conclude that the regular Filet would likely come in between ten and twelve ounces.
After placing my order, bread and butter arrived at my table:
The bread was fresh and warm and the crust had just a slight bit of chew to it. It appeared to be an Italian loaf, sans seeds. While certainly not an artisan loaf of bread (which would seem oddly out of place in a restaurant like Arnie's), it did an excellent job of whetting my appetite for the meal to come.
Every steak dinner also came with a garden salad:
While I certainly didn't expect anything more creative than your basic mixture of Iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers red onion slices and salty croutons, I was a touch surprised when both the plate and the salad arrived at my table ice cold. Clearly these had been plated earlier in the day and stored in a reach-in or walk-in until needed for service. When I had asked about available dressings, the list turned into a Who's Who of prepared food service staples. Until, that was, she said, "Honey Lemon." Now, I don't know if "honey" and "lemon" were the end of one flavor and the beginning of the next, but the way she said it, it not only sounded like it was its own flavor, but also an unusual enough flavor that it would likely be homemade. When I asked for "honey lemon on the side, please," she nodded and repeated "honey lemon" as she wrote it down on her order pad.
I'm not exactly sure where the disconnect was, but what accompanied my salad was not Honey Lemon dressing, but your standard Honey MUSTARD dressing. I didn't ask her about it again when she returned to check on me because a) I figured that what was really being offered was not Honey Lemon, but Honey Mustard and b) I like Honey Mustard dressing. I like it even more when it is homemade, but this version wasn't terrible either.
I finished my salad just a few minutes before my steak and side arrived:
My grandfather definitely would've approved and probably uttered a, "Now THAT'S what I'm talking about." I understand that some of the bigger cuts of steak would've occupied more of the platter, but I have to say that my Petit Filet looked even tinier on such a large plate. While I was only expecting a single sprig of parsley as a garnish, tonight's adornment was a lettuce leaf with an orange segment perched atop. The steak, sitting in a pool of its own jus, had the characteristic quadrillage, or criss-cross hashmarks, on both the top and the bottom. This told me that the steak had been cooked on top of a grill as opposed to broiled under the salamander.
I easily cut into the steak to reveal a perfect medium-rare temperature:
I placed that first bite into my mouth and was rewarded with a tender, juicy steak that had been seasoned on both the top and bottom. While it was definitely a step up from places that don't season the meat at all, it still needed a bit more. Perhaps I have become used to popular modern restaurants where seasoning can be aggressive. Instead of adding more salt, however, I discovered that the jus that had come out of the steak was already properly seasoned, so instead as I cut each bite, I simply dragged it through the liquidy sauce on my plate before eating it. Problem solved. By the time I got to the end of my steak, I was glad I had only ordered the Petit Filet. The full-size Filet, while only about $6 more, would've been way too much meat for me.
For my included side, I decided to go with the Sliced Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Butter:
While I've had variations of this dish countless times at other restaurants, something about it both appealed to me and yet felt unfinished. I get that the idea was to pair a lightly flavored cooked sweet potato with something sweet and spicy (as in cinnamon spicy), but the flavors never felt like they properly locked in. Arnie's version was exactly in that camp. The sweet potato was soft and cut easily and the brown sugar and cinnamon butter added the usual sweet, spicy, and creamy elements to the dish, but it lacked a certain "something." As I sat there trying to figure it out, it occurred to me that perhaps what the dish needed was just the tiniest bit of salt. Salt is commonly used in sweet dishes, if only in very small amounts, to help elevate the sweet flavors.
Using the salt shaker provided on the table, I sprinkled about an 1/8 teaspoon into my right palm and then used the thumb and forefinger on my left hand to sprinkle the remaining sweet potatoes with a very light coating of salt. I then loaded up my fork with all of the elements and took a bite. Eureka! That's what was missing. All of the sweet flavors seemed to intensify and instead of it tasting salty, it just tasted more like itself, but only brighter. I definitely know how I'll be preparing this dish (or doctoring it up if it's being served in a restaurant) from this point forward.
When the check finally came, with tax it came out to just slightly over $20 (including water to drink). While this could still be pricey for some, for the quality of the steak and given that it was cooked perfectly, was a pretty good deal considering that at some of the bigger steak house chains, it would have been considerably more. While the rest of the food was rather pedestrian and not particularly inventive, I have to say that I did enjoy my meal tonight at Arnie's and wouldn't hesitate to return again for another meal knowing that I won't be breaking the bank to do so. It's safe to say that Arnie's isn't exactly accessible to those from any of the major cities in northeast Ohio, but if you are looking for some of that old school steak house charm from yesteryear, they are definitely worth seeking out.