Saturday, January 15, 2011

Iaria's Italian Restaurant

317 S. College Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana
(317) 638-7706
Tues - Thurs5pm - 9:30pm
Friday 5pm - 10pm
Saturday 4:30pm - 10pm
Tues - Fri 11am - 1:30pm
Closed Sunday and Monday

It doesn't look like much. It's an old building with tacky neon lights on South College Ave and you would never know it was there, but Iaria's nearly always has a full parking lot and a long wait on any given weekend.

The decor is old and outdated, too. There is an old wooden bar at one end of the bar side and two lines of green booth seats back to back in the middle of the bar area with tables lining either side. They put paper placemats down on the table and roll the silverware in paper napkins that adorn the Iaria's logo. It's loud and busy and you can hear the bus boy drop all of the plates into his bus tub. So how have they drawn such a crowd? How do they get celebrities to sign pictures so they can hang them on the wall?

 Iaria's was established in 1913 and underwent a few major changes in its business plan over the years. Back then, College Ave was Noble St. When the Iaria family moved to Indianapolis from Virginia (although they were originally from Roccoforte, Italy) they purchased a home where the dining room sits today. They took in boarders and Antonia Iaria fed them the same spaghetti sauce recipe that the restaurant still uses today. Three years later, Pete Iaria's Italian Grocery was born in what is now the bar, and that's how things stayed until 1933 when they started the restaurant. Iaria's is now in it's forth generation of ownership.

I always end up in the bar area. I have eaten at Iaria's several times in my life, but I have no idea what the actual dining room looks like. I can't imagine it's much different. We called ahead and got right in. 

Our server was being run ragged and she quickly stopped by our table to let us know she'd be right with us. We were still looking over the wine list, so that's okay. In the mean time, delicious warm Italian bread was dropped off at the table. When she came back I asked how the House Chianti was and she said that she liked it and offered me a sample. I ordered a 1/2 carafe and The Boy ordered a Goose Island 312 along with some calamari. The Chianti was nice. It had a sweeter flavor than most of the Chiantis I've had, but still had that nice spicy finish that I've grown to know and love. 

She then took our order. Whenever I see veal on the menu, I have to order it. I love veal and I don't want to hear about those poor baby cows. They taste delicious. At any rate, I ordered the veal parmesan with pasta and The Boy ordered  cheese tortellini with a tomato cream sauce. Both are served with homemade ministrone and a side salad.

 Almost instantly our calamari was delivered. They are freshly breaded in Italian bread crumbs and fried and served with piping hot homemade marinara sauce. You can usually tell a lot about a restaurant by its calamari and this was very good. The seasoning and the sauce were delicious and the calamari was not chewy. The marinara is a little sweet, but it works very well with the calamari.

Next, she brought out our minestrone soup with precision timing. The Boy liked it, but I thought it was a bit bland. We both salted it and added some parmesan cheese, but I just couldn't love it. It is homemade and has nice big chunks of zucchini, beans, and all of the typical ingredients, but I felt like it was lacking in the tomato department.

Again, with perfect timing, our salads came. So far, we're really impressed with the service. They have meal timing down to a science. We both ordered EYE-talian dressing with our salads. On a side note, whenever you go to a family owned Italian restaurant, get the Italian dressing. Don't order ranch. Most often, it's homemade. The salad itself was pretty typical. It looked like a spring mix with some shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, and cucumbers. The dressing is thick, tart and zesty, but not over-powering. We both loved it. The side salad can be substituted for the antipasto salad for you salad people out there. It's also really good and totally worth the upcharge if you're in the mood for antipasto.

 As soon as we finished those, our entrees were brought out (they must have little gnomes with headsets under the table to tell them when to bring the next course). The Boy's plate looked delicious. The tomato cream sauce is a beautiful color that is almost a light orange. It looked nice and fresh. The veal is kind of piled on top of itself with melted provolone and tomato sauce and the pasta is served in a bowl with the same sauce poured over top of it. I'm still excited about it at this point. I cut into the tender meat with my mouth watering, but I was sad to learn that the famous Iaria's sauce, which is very sweet, does not work at all with the veal. I ate a little more of it hoping that the flavors would start to meld together, but they did not. When the server came back to check on us, she asked how everything was. The Boy was stuffing his face with those cheese-filled tortellini and that delicate sauce, so he was obviously fine. I said, "It's okay," kind of indifferently and she read right into it. 

"Just okay?!" I explained that the sauce and the veal didn't work with my palate and she offered to fix it for me, but I declined. I still had the spaghetti ahead of me. She apologized for the food to which I replied it was fine and thanked her. After all, she didn't cook it. I wasn't that disappointed. I'm even more impressed with the service at this point, though. Usually when I respond like that, they say "great!" and leave.

When we were finished eating, she offered to box mine up for me, but I knew that it would just sit in the fridge for a week (or six) and I'd throw it out when it started to smell, so I didn't take my left-overs with me. The Boy cleaned his plate and was full to his eyeballs.

When I went to Rome, there was a chef who had a restaurant around the corner from our apartment in Trastavere who turned us on to an Italian digestif called Amaro - we ended up getting really drunk off of this bitter-sweet licorice flavored drink, but last night at Iaria's, I couldn't remember the name of it. I even texted the people I went with and asked, what was that drink we got from the chef that we got really drunk off of? He replied "A-something" which was exactly what I told The Boy. I asked the server if she knew what I was talking about and she brought me Anisette - it is a digestif that tastes like licorice and starts with an "A" so I give her an A for effort. It wasn't what I was looking for, but it was delicious - and strong. I sipped it slowly and let the licorice and mint flavors consume me while I waited for my food coma to pass.  

We also ordered a piece of tiramisu to share when we got home. They make it from scratch, so we had to try it. It was absolutely wonderful with a light espresso flavor.

The Verdict: I'm going to give it another shot. The server really wowed me and this is the first meal I've had there that wasn't perfect.  The Boy loved his meal, so next time I'll just stay away from the veal. The total bill was only $84 for a beer, a 1/2 carafe of wine, an appetizer, 2 entrees, a digestif, and dessert. We would have spent more at a chain restaurant for poor service and poor quality pre-made food.

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