If you grew up in New Albany, chances are you’ve eaten your fair share of pizza from Arni’s Restaurant. It was feeding Floyd County decades before the culinary rise in the city’s downtown area.
In fact, the Arni’s franchise on State Street has existed there since the late 1960s, when Arni Cohen purchased the tiny building. Cohen, who started his small Indiana chain of eateries in 1965, had originally purchased a Pizza King restaurant and decided to keep the menu essentially the same but to shift the brand to his own namesake.
This, of course, explains the similarities in the menu and ingredients between Arni’s restaurants (there’s one in Floyds Knobs as well) and the iconic Steve’s Pizza King locations in and around Clark and Floyd counties. An Arni’s employee told me during a recent visit that the location had originally been a Pizza King — Cohen bought and converted it, just as he did in Lafayette.
Cohen died in 2002, the same year he was elected to the Indiana Restaurant Association Hall of Fame; his sons now run the company, but stores are locally managed (some in other parts of the state are locally owned franchises) and remain local mainstays in the communities they serve, with a winsome slogan: “Meet you at Arni’s.”
Both Floyd County Arni’s locations are managed by longtime employee Christy Allen, who took over for local favorite Bob Allen, who worked there 44 years before retiring in 2016.
I hadn’t been to Arni’s in several years — as a Jeffersonville native, I have always been a Pizza King devotee — but decided to check in again for lunch recently. It didn’t disappoint.
I met my friend Butch there for lunch, during which we decided to split a small pizza and a stromboli, an Arni’s staple. You order at the counter from a wall menu.
An employee estimated the restaurant does about 70 percent carryout, but there’s a small dining room with eight orange-topped tables and literally no décor. You don’t come to Arni’s for ambience — you come for the pizza and small-town feel.
The enthusiastic cashier rang us up and soon brought out our drinks as we settled into a small table near the back. A small jukebox sat idly by while, almost as a testimony to the neighborhood feel, a family with kids sat at one table, and an elderly couple sat at the table next to them.
Our food came out about five minutes later, steaming hot and smelling delicious. The stromboli was roughly twice as large as I’d anticipated — we easily could have split the half order. It was accompanied by wavy potato chips in a plastic bag and a pickle spear in a long bag, which Butch observed gave the meal a “sack lunch” feel.
The Arni’s stromboli is served on soft, lightly toasted Italian bread and is simple but hearty, with the familiar chopped sausage, marinara, chopped onions and plenty of gooey mozzarella. Hot peppers are also on the list according to the menu, but I sure didn’t see or taste any on my half.
Nevertheless, it tasted like my childhood, when I used to get stromboli and pizza at a Pizza King location in Clarksville. The stromboli is much like a sausage pizza turned inside out, with a slight sweetness from the onions and sauce, and a unique spice from the fennel sausage. Even the pickle was spot on — crunchy and quite flavorful.
We both are pepperoni pizza guys, but we decided to get the signature barbecue pizza, dubbed on the menu as “an Arni’s classic.”
I’d had the Pizza King version, but not the Arni’s version, and Butch had never tried one.
Well, typically on these types of “party” pizzas, which are cut into small squares for optimal sharing, the toppings are on top of the cheese, but on this pizza, the cheese was on top, and there was plenty of it, especially in the center.
True to classic form at Arni’s, the edge pieces were crispy and bursting with flavor from the sauce and sausage. The center slices, which usually are slightly less crispy, were downright gooey on this version. Messy but delicious.
(Note: Lots of Arni’s regulars ask that their pizza be left in the oven a couple of extra minutes to make it extra crispy.)
Interestingly, the tangy-meets-sweet barbecue sauce brought out the licorice flavor in the fennel seeds, more so than the pizza sauce. It was jarring at first, but once my palate adjusted, I overindulged. Some of the onions on the pieces I ate had been charred slightly by the decades-old ovens, making the pizza even more enjoyable.
We ended up having pizza to take with us and got out of our lunch feast at around $20, proving Arni’s still offers good value some 50 years later.
Arni’s has locations in New Albany at 1208 State St. and 3700 Paoli Pike. Both are open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon-10 p.m. on Sunday.