Gentrification saw the demise three months ago of Louis’ Restaurant & Carry Out in Ivy City, a genial corner retreat where you could get a sandwich for less than five bucks. Helping to fill the gap in the neighborhood, for breakfast if not for bargain-basement prices, is Ari’s Diner, which made its debut in December. Anyone looking for a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes or steak and eggs should get to the Hecht Warehouse development off busy New York Avenue NE.
The original 16-foot ceilings had to be lowered to create the intimate diner feel sought by owner Ari Gejdenson, whose Mindful Restaurant Group also includes Acqua al 2 on Capitol Hill and Ghibellina on 14th Street NW. What’s not aluminum trim or tiny floor tiles at Ari’s is green upholstery or other accent. “Green is the color of freedom,” says Gejdenson, a welcome shade “in these trying times.” He found retro images of buses, cars and trucks in a book and laminated the counter with them. The whimsical designs are meant to “embrace the traffic” entering Washington from nearby.
The diner’s single-page, all-day menu includes a handful of omelets, Belgian waffles, Greek salad and six sandwiches. From the griddle come respectable hamburgers and crab cakes, slipped into sesame-seed buns and offered with a choice of skinny, hand-cut french fries or greens tossed with a lemony dressing. In a nod to contemporary tastes, there’s also avocado toast — cold when I sampled it — glossed with olive oil and perked up with pickled onions. Drinks include milkshakes (classic or boozy), Compass coffee, DC Brau and a modest sparkling wine — something for every mood, more or less.
A lighter hand with the oil would improve the diced potatoes, and the line cooks seem averse to salt. My omelet stuffed with spinach, tomato and feta cheese needed a few shakes of hot sauce to wake it up. But those are easy fixes, and there’s plenty else to like. Make room for the tender house-baked biscuits, sandwiched with peppery sausage gravy and flanked with sunny scrambled eggs.
Watching over the tidy kitchen is Matt Heimbauer, a chef with the restaurant group, which recently added a Mexican outpost next door, the colorful La Puerta Verde.
Ari’s is not the restaurateur’s first diner. That would be The Diner in Florence, Italy, where, as a soccer player in 2003, Gejdenson opened a five-booth American eatery in a 900-year-old building with vaulted ceilings. His primary audience: expats, students and tourists.
Gejdenson can’t complain about the commute to his new restaurants. His home, after all, is on the east side of the same building.
2003 Fenwick St. NE., 202-290-1827, arisdiner.com. Breakfast platters and sandwiches, $7 to $22.