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Friday, July 19, 2024

Old world charm.

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This week I visited Iaria’s, 317 S. College Ave., a restaurant that has been in Indianapolis for nearly 100 years.

As the story goes, Pete and Antonia Iaria immigrated to America in the early 20th century. Initially working in the West Virginia coal mining industry, Pete Iaria decided to seek a better life by moving his wife and eight children to Indianapolis. By 1913, they had settled into the house that sat on what is now Iaria’s restaurant. The business started as a grocery store, with Pete Iaria in the front and Antonia Iaria getting dinner ready in the back. They always fed hungry workers from the G & J Rubber Plant, located across the street from their grocery store, for free. As time went on, they realized that they were giving away more spaghetti than they were selling groceries, so they converted the business into a restaurant.

The Iarias’ old recipes are still served today, and the eatery continues to be owned by the same family. When I stopped by recently, I was able to meet Dominic Iaria, a third-generation family member, who tends Iaria’s fully stocked bar. Fourth generation family member and Southport High School student Brandon Iaria was also there. He was outside kicking around a soccer ball, but it was not all play for the young man. He was scheduled to work that night, bussing tables and learning the family trade.

The involvement of four generations contributes to the restaurant having a family-friendly atmosphere. “Because my grandparents started this place, we treat you like family,” said Dominic Iaria. “We want you to enjoy yourselves.”

I tried the chicken piccata with fettuccini Alfredo and a meatball on the side. Chicken piccata is a chicken breast sautéed in a lemon butter sauce. It reminded me that some ingredients are just meant to go together, like lemon and butter. This combination is pretty much always going to be good, although I would say that Iaria’s version is better than average. I knew beforehand that the fettuccini Alfredo was going to be good, because I have been eating it since I was a little kid, and it did not disappoint. Iaria’s signature meatballs are world-renowned. The wall of the restaurant displays signed photos from sports stars such as Oscar Robertson, Dan Marino, Reggie Miller, Joe Montana, Larry Bird and Peyton Manning. Invariably, the autographs say something along the lines of “loved the meatballs, take care.” Both the Alfredo and meatball recipes have not changed since the days of Antonia Iaria.

Recipes for the red sauce, sausages, pizza dough and clam sauce, which are all made in-house, also have not changed in 97 years. Weekly specials, homemade soups, salads and gondola sandwiches all add to the variety.

To learn more about this Indy establishment, call (317) 638-7706 or visit iariasrestaurant.com.

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