Everyone knows what it's like to be far away from home and in need of something familiar. Back in the early 2000's D.C. native Ari Gejdenson was playing soccer in Florence, Italy and recognized that classic American food was nowhere to be found around town. Given the amount of American students studying abroad, Ari realized he could help cure their homesickness with some pancakes and milkshakes. In 2003 he opened Ari's Diner which continues to be a success today almost 15 years later. While Ari was running the diner, he developed a fondness for the restaurant Acqua Al 2, and eventually became the chef of the popular dining establishment in Florence. With the help of friend Ralph Lee, Ari was able to bring Acqua Al 2 to Capitol Hill in 2010 and launch Mindful Restaurant Group which is now the home for eight restaurants and bars in Washington. Given that I studied abroad in Florence, Italy back in 2004, Ari's story resonates with me as I remember countless nights eating at Acqua Al 2, and I also lived on Via Ghibellina which is the namesake for their 14th Street Italian restaurant Ghibellina.
Fast forward to now, and Ari has officially brought his diner to D.C. in the new Ivy City complex. As soon as you step inside it feels like you've been transported back to the 1950's with the mirrored walls, mosaic tiled floors, leather seated booths, and the long counter with stools. The diner is currently open from 6am to 9pm and is serving comfort classics including omelets, pancakes, french toast, grilled cheese, and even a Monte Cristo sandwich.
The food reminds me of childhood, and the diners I used to frequent with my family. The pancakes are absolutely delicious, and made on the griddle right behind the counter where you can watch, chat with the cook, or chat with others enjoying their meal. While the concept of a diner is greatly needed in town, Ari's Diner serves more than one purpose. Now that Mindful Restaurant Group owns many establishments, it is Ari's goal to use the diner as a training ground for staff who wish to grow into line cooks, servers, or chefs. Once he is able to teach someone the basics at the diner, the opportunities to move to Acqua Al 2 or Ghibellina are available within the restaurant family. It's a testament to their investment in jobs and building community in Washington, and they're able to do all of this while also continuing to open delicious restaurants that feed us well.
There is only one way to end a meal at Ari's Diner, and that is with a milkshake! I enjoyed the chocolate malted milkshake with whipped cream and a cherry on top, but they also offer adult milkshakes like the Vanilla Bourbon or the Mexican Chocolate Malt with Patron XO and Ancho Ryes. There is no doubt that Ari's Diner is going to make a lot of people happy, and provide the classic diner experience that has been missing from the city for some time now. It also happens to be a perfect concept for the changing Ivy City neighborhood that Ari has chosen to call home. Just next door are two of his other new concepts: La Puerta Verde and Dock FC which are sure to help make this location a new dining destination.