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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Arin Bert: Milwaukee's Taste of Armenia

Enjoy great deals on falafel, kebabs

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There is no table service, the flatware and plates are made of plastic, and the place closes at 6:30 p.m.—and yet Arin Bert Coffee & Grill holds a special place in Milwaukee. How so? It happens to be the first place to serve Armenian food here.

Local attorney Joseph Seifert owns Arin Bert with his brother-in-law Razmik Kalenjian. Kalenjian, also the chef, is a native of the Republic of Georgia, which is a close neighbor of Armenia.

Arin Bert opened as a casual café, and then expanded to include the grill when the neighboring space became available. There are two counters to order from, one for beverages and one for food. The place is run by family members who are eager to introduce customers to their Armenian fare.

The menu includes sandwich wraps ($4.75-$6.50) and platters ($6.25-$8.95), the latter of which features different types of meat kebabs and a vegetarian entrée of falafel. The falafel is already very popular. The cracked wheat fritters, which are made here, have a softer texture than usual and provide the occasional burst of cumin flavor. They are served with chopped onion, parsley and purple sumac powder—the powder, which contributes a tart flavor, is very popular in the part of the world that inspires Arin Bert. Platters are served with a choice of rice pilaf or fries. The potato fries are freshly prepared in the kitchen.

The two types of kebabs are shashlik and lula. Chicken shashlik features boneless pieces of meat on a skewer. The lula kebabs offer three meat options—pork, beef and chicken—and fish will be offered in the future. In a lula kebab, the meat is minced and seasoned with spices before being rolled on the skewer. The beef kebab is much like the Lebanese kofta kebab. The pork lula also has a fine flavor.

Kebabs are served with a choice of two sauces. One is essentially a puree of pure garlic, with all of the pungency. The other is a pleasant herbed tomato sauce called satsabeli. It is especially good with the pork.

Platters also include a choice of two side dishes, and these can actually be the stars of the meal. Turshi is pickled cabbage with celery, carrot, red pepper and peppercorn. Kalenjian salad is romaine lettuce with bold herbed vinaigrette. The carrot salad is processed into threads and has an addictive sweet flavor. Adjiga is a gently spiced puree of red beans. The beet and potato salad is creamy—very Russian in flavor. Tabouli, the familiar parsley and cracked wheat salad of the Middle East, is perfect with the falafel.

Sandwich wraps offer pita bread filled with one of the kebabs or the falafel. The soup of the day ($1.95-$2.75) often features red lentil. It is a good match with this menu.


I look forward to an expansion of the food offerings, perhaps with some dishes from Georgia. I found some excellent Georgian restaurants when I visited Moscow a few years ago. For now, Arin Bert already fills an important niche in the ethnic fabric of Milwaukee dining. And the prices cannot be beat.

Arin Bert

222 W. Wells St.

(414) 755-2810

$

Credit Cards: All Major

arinbertgrill.com

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