Feature restaurant review: DeArini's Tavern & Grill

G.A. Benton
Lasagna Dinner with Salad

A virtual shrine of framed photographs graces a wall in DeArini's Tavern & Grill. Among the honored in this little Hall of Fame are long-faded, once-popular Columbus establishments such as Zachariah's Red Eye Saloon, the Jai Lai and the Olentangy Inn diner.

Despite its sequestered location in a shopping mall on Henderson Road, DeArini's — an endearing bar and Italian-American restaurant open since 1967 — has thus far been immune to the fates of those aforementioned businesses, thanks in part to its loyal customers.

These regulars obviously enjoy an open, roomy, fuss-free space embellished with Buckeye memorabilia, a large bar, Keno screens, multiple TVs and inexpensive, red-sauce-splashed comfort food. Overseeing this scene — and a big, cigar-friendly patio — is a skeletal staff whose members also tend bar and are friendly, if not always speedy.

DeArini's might be as non-trendy as the Fiestaware it uses — frankly, I appreciate such reasonable plates and bowls — yet that doesn't mean it's lacking in the craft-beer department. But if you just want a Bud Light in a frosted pint glass, and it's a Tuesday, it'll only cost $2. Some cuisine-compatible drinks: Peroni beers are $4.25; glasses of Ruffino Chianti are $6.25.

For a great start to a meal, say, “I do” to the Wedding Soup ($4.15). With its flavorful broth, plentiful spinach, mini meatballs and loads of poultry — most of which tasted like pulled turkey — it's one of the best around.

“Humble” describes another starter, but that word doesn't do it justice if you grew up loving old-school Italian-American food: a simple house salad of mixed lettuces, pepperoncini, a few veggies, canned black olives, plus an overabundance of winning, house-made red-wine vinaigrette. When eaten with the provided warm, crusty rolls liberally enriched with butter from a little foil-sealed tub, it's a nostalgic taste of yesteryear.

The Italian Sausage sandwich ($7.15) is another well-executed classic. A nicely toasted sesame-seed roll holds butterflied, deeply seared, thick and juicy, fennel-seeded sausage links enhanced by melted cheese and good house tomato sauce.

The pizzas are a highlight: rectangular slices of medium-thick crust with an audibly crunchy edge sporting lively house sauce, plus attractively blistered cheeses. Like the pies, topping options are fairly straightforward — this is the kind of place for zesty pepperoni, garlicky Italian sausage clumps and pickled banana peppers ($16 buys a 12-inch pizza with three items). DeArini's also offers a thinner crust, but I preferred the crisper “original” crust.

Delving into entrees (served with a house salad), I encountered more good food but several “almosts.” Case in point: the pleasant-tasting Original Lasagna ($12.55) with house sauce, ground beef and plenty of flavor from spinach and ricotta cheese, which was served almost hot. The Chicken Roma ($14), a lighter, grilled cousin of chicken Parmigiana, was almost tender and came with almost al dente pasta flattered with cuts-above house alfredo sauce. And the otherwise loveable, hulking, sauce-drenched, one-pound Meatball($9)stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese — which would work better as a shared appetizer — was almost-heated-through in the center.

The killer “Johnny's Shy Town” ($7.25) — a mammoth Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich — displays DeArini's at its best. Rather than roast beef and giardiniera as in the Chicago classic, this tour de force stars a boatload of delicious house pot roast topped with whole pickled chilies. Black pepper, oregano, a righteous au jus soaking, melted provolone cheese and a notably flavorful toasted hoagie roll add to the fun.

Yup, it's all that and a bag of Tom's brand chips. Hopefully, DeArini's will be serving it for at least another 50 years.

DeArini's Tavern & Grill

1942 Henderson Rd., Northwest Side