When wandering the streets of Athens, it is very easy to discover some great restaurants. Just walking uptown on Court Street, one can find everything from food carts with gyros and burritos, fast food chains, hotdog joints, coffee shops, Chinese and Mexican restaurants and even a chicken wing place. If none of that tickles your fancy, taking a short walk down one of the alleyways on Court Street will allow you to dine at one of the finest fusion restaurants in Athens: Sol.
While it seems the location of Sol Cuban Fusion Cuisine seems random, it was the perfect place for Athens residences Todd and Tuti Wilson to open up business. Located at 33 N. Court St., before Sol was Sol, it was the home to Restaurant Salaam. Salaam has since moved to another location on to a new location on West Washington Street. This left the Court Street location unoccupied from 2009 to 2011.
The couple initially started out opening a fusion food cart serving their gourmet Cuban cuisine on Richland Avenue. They then moved to uptown Athens in spring quarter of 2011, and business was instantly successful. The reason? Sol is different than any restaurant Athens has seen before. Todd and Tuti feel that many Americans have been exposed to the typical Hispanic food from Mexican restaurants, but Cuban food is quite different than Mexican food. Cuban food uses citruses and spices that are not used in Mexican dishes.
These differences can be seen throughout Sol’s menu. Lunch items such as the Guava Honey BBQ Sandwich, Pan con Lechon and the Ropa Vieja Sandwish may seem to be spicy, but all have sweeter tastes to them. Similarly on the dinner menu, the Sol Steak with Chimichurri sauce, the Ropa Vieja and the Shrimp Pasta aren’t spicy, but guests call the meals delicious, nonetheless.
“We went during Parents Weekend, my dad ordered the steak with which came the Chimichurri sauce. We were both stunned by this specialty sauce we made a request for the waiter to compliment the chef. It was nothing like I’ve had before,” says Samantha Maurine, an Ohio University senior study Spanish and linguistics
Maurine has been to Sol many times, most often with Spanish Club.
“My first experience at Sol was during the Spanish club conversation hour. We ordered the variety plate of their specialty salsas,” she says. “The most recent time I was there, I ordered some kind of shrimp with white wine linguini Alfredo dish. For it not being an Italian restaurant, I was pretty impressed with the bold flavors of the dish.”
Another aspect that makes Sol unique from other restaurants in Athens is the drink menu.
“I ordered the Cuban Mojito and some kind of Cuban Long Island,” says Maurine. “It beats any of the bars.”
“I’ve had their (Sol’s) drinks before, and I think they do a really great job,” says Taylor Evans, a senior journalism major at OU. “I’ve had the pawpaw margarita and the piña colada and I think, for the price you pay — they are a little more expensive than a bar drink — they are really good and I feel like I’m getting a really great drink.”
Evans and many of her friends ventured to Sol to celebrate her birthday. As a vegetarian, Evans feels Sol has many veggie-friendly options.
“I’d say they have a lot of options for vegetarians,” she says. “Plus, they have rice and beans, so I’m sure they’d be able to come up with an alternative.”
Not only vegetarians can enjoy dishes at Sol; meat eaters have plenty to pick from.
“I ordered their chicken pasta dish,” says Alyssa Kovack, a senior Spanish and Restaurant, Hotel and Tourism major. “It was such a large portion and I loved every bit of it.”
Both Kovack and Maurine are Spanish speakers, and while neither has ever visited Cuba, they both felt the restaurant had a perfect Hispanic atmosphere to it.
“I thought that the interior definitely had a Latino feel to it,” says Maurine. “I haven’t studied Cuban culture enough to say that it has a specifically Cuban setting, but definitely a Latino.”
With exposed brick walls, romantic lighting, candles at each table and salsa music playing softly throughout the restaurant, it is no wonder Sol has an evident Hispanic vibe about it.
Sol’s website informs guests that while many of the dishes have a Cuban inspiration to them, not all of the dishes are strictly Cuban food. Many of the recipes are original Cuban recipes, including the bread each table receives.
“We kept asking for more. I think we had at least three servings,” Kovack laughs.
Some first-time diners may be tentative to try the Cuban cuisine because they feel it may have a similar spice and flavor to it that Mexican food does.
“It was not what I expected,” says Hillary Johns, a senior journalism major. “I was kind of nervous about the food because I’m not very adventurous when it comes to new places to eat.”
Johns had one of the most well-known dishes on the menu: the Cuban Fusion Wrap.
“It was basically like a burrito — except 10 times better,” she says. “I was kind of expecting a little hole in the wall because it (Sol) is down an alleyway, but as we walked in, there were really nice tables and candle lighting and a really pretty bar … I was really blown away.”
One of the most noteworthy parts of Sol is their bar. Sol is home to the only rum bar in Athens, offering about 20 different types of rums, in all price ranges.
Not only is Sol a restaurant for brunch, lunch and dinner, they host a Salsa dancing night every Tuesday and Friday. Owners Todd and Tuti bring in an instructor to give lessons to customers as well as open dancing later in the evening.
Even though Salsa dancing has become popular among the older crowd of Athenians, many college students aren’t drawn in.
“I’m just not a very good dancer,” says Evans.
While Sol is still one of the newer restaurants in Athens, it has made waves since opening its doors last year. Offering Cuban fusion cuisine and even giving Salsa lessons, Sol has found its niche in the Athens food scene.
Sol is open for lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner Monday-Wednesday 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m. and Sunday 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Brunch is available on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. More information available on their website.
Interview with Hillary Johns:
Interview with Taylor Evans:
[NOTE: upon numerous phone calls to reach out to the management of Sol, none of these phone calls were returned, leaving no information from the management nor owners.]