The Semester Switch: What it means for restaurants

Normally after Thanksgiving, the town of Athens, Ohio becomes restful as Ohio University is closed until January. With all universities in Ohio having to switch to semesters starting the 2012-2013 academic year, this is the first fall (in a long time) students return to Athens after Thanksgiving.

Though some may have experienced semesters before, many others have not. This switch has caused a stir in businesses and restaurants alike. It may not seem like a switch of the academic calendar could affect restaurants and businesses, but this change caused many adjustments in the hours of Athens businesses.

The summer also had many workers noticing a change in hours — as well as customers.

“During the summer, we had a whole town-based business,” said Greg Cunningham, manager of Court Street Diner. “As soon as all the kids come back, all the townies go away, and we basically had to — for three, four weeks — had to rebuild our business.”

Typically, Ohio University students return to the school the first week of September, around Labor Day. This year, students returned anywhere from the middle to late August. This caused for crowds to pick up earlier, and also for people to return to jobs earlier.

“We had many students who couldn’t come back to work right away because they were at other jobs or internships,” said Carly McMakin, former manager of Jefferson Market.

McMakin, a senior anthropology major at OU, noted that the market had to adjust their hours and stay open later on semesters. The markets were also open the weekend of Thanksgiving break.

The shorter summer also affected uptown restaurants.

“Everyone started coming back about two weeks before semesters even started,” said Nikcole Petkov, a manager at Brenen’s Coffee & Café. “It was definitely a lot busier this summer than it was last summer.”

The school year started earlier, the summer was shorter and winter break is shorter under this new semester system. But, OU students don’t head back to the brick-lined streets until mid-January of 2013. Typically the school year resumes immediately after the New Year holiday.

“Overall, people may not come back for part of the break,” Petkov said. “Instead of having to stay home, for Christmas and New Year’s, they might come back around New Year’s and then trickle back from there on. So, we’re actually expecting to be a little bit busier this break than we were last break.”

Not every uptown restaurant has such a rosy outlook on the upcoming winter break.         Employees at Court Street Diner feel the winter break means less business this year than it has in the past.

When entering Court Street Diner on a typical Thursday night, under the quarter system, it would be packed with students and “townies” alike. However, when visiting the restaurant on a Thursday evening on semesters, only three tables are full with one person sitting at the counter.

“It’s been really slow all week,” said Elisha Gud, a waitress at Court Street Diner. “If there isn’t anything going on uptown, we normally sit here and hope for business. But when there is stuff going on uptown, we get a busy rush.”

The employees at Court Street Diner aren’t as confidant as Petkov is about students ringing in the new year in Athens.

“We normally think that we’d be busy on New Year’s Day,” said Cunningham, “but we don’t think we’re going to be this year. Because everyone is still going to be gone. Students normally come into town a few days early — just to be here for New Year’s.”

The student employees feel the semester has run them dry both physically and monetarily.

“Normally, people have money to go out and do stuff. Normally, we’re not in school right now and people are at home working,” said Tress Monte Calvo, an Ohio University student and Court Street Diner waitress. “I typically would go home with $40 in my pocket on a normal night on quarters, but this year, the most I’ve gotten is about $20.”

This switch to semesters has meant a lot of change for everyone in Athens. While some see good aspects to it, others see the difficulties of adjusting to a new schedule.

“We used to be able to go back through our records and figure out what kind of day we expect for a certain day in history,” said Cunningham. “But now, we can’t do that. It’s all new.”

Regardless of the positive, negative or indifferent reactions to semesters, one thing is certain: the switch to semesters has cause a spur in a change of hours and customer behavior at restaurants and businesses in Athens. These changes are going to take some time to get used to.

Visiting Athens this winter? Check out this Google map on what restaurants and businesses had to adjust their hours for semesters.

[NOTE: If you cannot see the restaurant markers on this Google map, either click the ‘View Larger Map’ link or click the minus button twice.]

Sol surprises many with fusion dishes

The entryway to Sol allows customers to enter to a new dining experience complete with intimate seating.

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.

Sol’s Ropa Vieja is a dish that food lovers will enjoy. Not too spicy, nor too sweet, the meat is the perfect amount of tenderness that will leave you wanting for more.

“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.”

The house margarita is a perfect pairing to all dishes Sol offers.

“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.

The Triple-Chocolate Throwdown is any chocolate lover’s dream. With three layers of chocolate cake that is as big as your head, it is hard not to share this delectable dessert.

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.”

Sol’s rum bar has shelves stocked full with a wide variety of rums. While it is empty early in the evenings, many pass through for a good drink.

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.

The disco ball sits above the lights but will be lowered when Sol has their Salsa nights twice a week.

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.]

Why this blog is all about food

For today’s post, here is a video of me describing the logic behind choosing the topic of “Food for Thought.” If you haven’t been following this blog closely, this video lets you in on all the topics covered and why.

Enjoy and don’t forget to try some new Athens food today!

Vegans indulge in Athens restaurants

In a college town such as Athens, Ohio, it is easy to find restaurants and food options that are vegetarian friendly. With multiple places that self-describe themselves as “the locavore’s home,” there are many food items that outsiders may consider funky. (For those wondering, a locavore is a person who eats food that is locally produced, similar to the of the 30-Mile Meal project)

But, for that select population who are vegan, even in town like Athens, it is difficult to find options that offer food which is vegan friendly.

That’s where “Food for Thought” comes in. Take a gander, vegan friends, at the following Google map which lists the top 10 vegan-friendly restaurants (and a few food carts) in Athens.

While this map lists the best places in town for vegans, another way to get reviews on these restaurants/food carts is by checking out their respective social media sites. Below each entry is a list of all the Facebooks, Twitters, Foursquares and even websites each restaurant has. [NOTE: at the time this post was written, some restaurants did not have social media sites.]

While this is only a list/map of the 10 best vegan-friendly places in Athens, there are many places that offer vegan dishes to customer. Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery has one dish for vegans and Big Mamma’s Burritos has one burrito available to vegans.

Vegans may have to shop at specific stores or not eat out as often in other cities and towns, but Athens has a wide variety of restaurants with different types of food offering food vegans can indulge and enjoy year-round.

Only the best at Athens Farmers Market

The dangerously-spicy flatbreads sold by Avalanche Pizza.

On a sunny fall morning, the parking lot of the Market on State is packed with cars, people and baked goods alike. People chatter about the goings-on of the previous night, students yawn from being awake so early, children lay asleep in their strollers. People can hear shouting about hot, fresh bread, listen to the sweet melodies from various bards who sing in between aisles. Popcorn is popping, dogs are barking, coffee is brewing. It’s a normal Saturday morning at the Athens Farmers Market.

Semiweekly, Wednesdays and Saturdays, The Market on State is converted to the Athens Farmers Market. Vendors from all over Ohio venture to Athens to set up shop for a couple of hours.

Jellies, jams and butters are aplenty at the Spring Valley Farm booth.

The Athens Farmers Market celebrated its 40th year this June. The first farmers market only had three vendors; the next week five vendors showed up, according to the Farmer’s Market website. While the amount of vendors steadily grew that summer, it was certain the top-selling items were vegetables. Since that summer, the market now offers more than just produce; bakers, horticulturists, cheese makers and people who create herbal remedies line the parking lot each week. The Athens Farmers Market website lists over 80 vendors, however, there are typically about 30 booths in attendance on both days.

Walking up and down the parking lot, newcomers to the Farmers Market will find booths that sell fruits, vegetables, bread, pizza, flowers, candles, soap, popcorn, herbal remedies, fudge, jams and jellies, coffee and salsas. Even the local troubadours come out each weekend to serenade customers while they shop — and to look for a few tips, of course.

Duff Farms brings fresh produce to the farmers market.

All of the vendors are either locals or come from the southeastern Ohio area. With many vendors being farmers, it’s no wonder fruits and veggies top the list of items that are sold at the Farmers Market.

While some would assume since these products are all locally grown and made, many college students wouldn’t want to shell out the money for produce and other items at the Farmers Market. For the Athens Farmers Market, this is not the case. Many students go to the market every weekend.

“I go every Saturday to grocery shop,” said senior Kristen Spicker. “I go there (the Farmers Market) first to buy locally and eat healthier.”

Pie in the Sky Baked Goods’ homemade loafs of bread remain in tact while the samples are devoured.

Eating healthier is on many students’ minds, and by buying food at the Farmers Market, they can do so. Many of the food found at the market is organic, having no pesticides, allowing students to know the food they buy is healthier for them than something they can buy at a grocery store.

However, not everyone comes for the healthier foods.

“My favorite food has to be the kettle corn,” Spicker said. “It’s hands down the best thing there. It’s not healthy, but it’s the best.”

Other students get a variety of foods while shopping the booths of the market.

“I like shopping locally for vegetables and cheeses,” said senior Kelsey Grau. “I also love all the sweets they have.”

At Integration Acres, Ltd.’s booth, the cheese and goat cheese are eaten up by hungry customers.

While the Athens Farmers Market is twice a week, most students tend to go on Saturday rather than during the week.

“I’ve been on Wednesdays, but I like Saturdays much better,” Grau said. “There are more booths and more people; it’s just more fun.” Grau added that seeing more people in attendance and more vendors in attendance embodies the spirit of Appalachia.

Vendors, each in their own way, do embody Appalachia. Vendors come from all over the area including: Millfield, Albany, New Marshfield, McConnelsville, Amesville, Zanesville, Guysville and of course, Athens.

Shew’s Orchard showcases their many pears while at the market.

From Zanesville, Mex-City Salsa, owned by Ted Zakany, is at the Farmers Market every Saturday April through December. The salsa connoisseur comes into Athens and is always a big hit with locals and students alike.

Salsas range from the typical mild to hot, but also have unique flavors that customers buy regularly. The distinct flavors draw in people who aren’t normally salsa people.

“The red raspberry chipotle is great for barbecuing,” Zakany said. “Our mild peach salsa is best on chicken or even with veggies.”

Mex-City Salsa makes all of their salsa with all-natural ingredients and locally-grown ingredients.

“Our ‘typical’ salsas draw people in too,” he said. “Our original hot is a favorite; it’s like a ‘friendly hot.’”

The various types of mild salsas Mex-City Salsa offers.

Mex-City brings jars of each flavor for samples (as well as plenty for sale), along with their tortilla chips so potential customers can taste test all and any of the salsas they’d like. Many customers stick to the classic flavors such as mild and hot, but Zakany urges people to go out of their comfort zones and try their original flavors, such as the red raspberry chipotle and the garlic, olive & pepper. Everyone will find a flavor they enjoy. And at $5 a jar, Mex-City Salsa is a steal.

With the Athens Farmers Market occurring twice a week, it is possible to find almost everything one is looking for. Vendors come from across the state to sell their products and typically offer a price even the poorest of college students can afford.

The Athens Farmers Market is every Wednesday from April-December; it is year-round every Saturday. The market goes from 10-1 both days. Located in the parking lot of The Market on State, 1000 E. State St., Athens, Ohio. Check their website for details about what vendors are available on what days and what time of the year.

Athens relishes hotdog joints

It’s 2 p.m. on Friday. Because of this silly switch to semesters, not only do OU students have class on Friday, there is no longer such a thing as Bobcat time. With students in and out of class at different times, there never really seems to be a rush at restaurants uptown. While this may not be beneficial to the businesses, it’s perfect for the student looking to grad a quick bite before rushing off to class.

Photos of dogs hanging above the counter top at O’Betty’s on Union.

Without a consistent time of students out of class, there is no lunch rush in restaurants, allowing customers a quick in-and-out to grab something to eat. But if the fast food joints aren’t appealing to you, then head on over to O’Betty’s. Well, head to one of the O’Betty’s; as of winter 2012, O’Betty’s on Union opened, enabling students and Athens locals alike to partake in the delicious dogs.

O’Betty’s on Union is a tad bit larger than the original O’Betty’s Red Hot! located on West State Street, but both have the flair of a burlesque show that the restaurants were named for. Each dog on the menu is named after a famous burlesque dancer, such as the Gypsy for Gypsy Rose Lee and the Dixie for Dixie Evans. Each dog is as unique as the dancer who it shares names with.

The full O’Betty’s menu.

With countless toppings, O’Betty’s can also make any dog sans the toppings. Don’t worry; vegetarians can indulge in a dog as well. O’Betty’s can make any dog into a “shy dog” for a veggie option. Also, customers can add “Show (S)toppers” to their dogs ranging from free to 75-cent toppings. For those picky eaters out there, the Hootchy-Kootchy dog is the perfect choice. The Hootchy-Kootchy lets customers “make their own burlesque show” meaning customers can choose whatever toppings they want. If that’s not your favorite, any dog can be ordered without certain toppings.

If this isn’t enough to draw you into O’Betty’s, then the deals will. During the early afternoon, from 11-2, O’Betty’s offers a Matinee Special: customers can get a hotdog, drink and a side of fries all for $6.25. For those who may argue this is expensive, just walk across the street to Buffalo Wild Wings and the meal will be a similar price, if not more expensive.

O’Betty’s on Union also offers Boxcar Burlesque Breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays from 9-2. All the dogs are available then, of course. However, taking a bite into these breakfast items is worth getting up early for. Patrons can order steak and eggs, omelettes, potato pancakes and a vegetarian scramble. While these items don’t have burlesque names like the dogs, they’re just as unique and delicious as the hotdogs O’Betty’s serves on a daily basis.

The faux-fur lined booths at O’Betty’s on Union.

Next time you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, take O’Betty’s Red Hot! and O’Betty’s on Union into consideration. With two locations, getting a good hotdog isn’t too far out of the way for anyone. These dog stands need to be on all OU students’ bucket lists.

O’Betty’s on Union is open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-3 a.m. and Sunday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. O’Betty’s Red Hot! is open Monday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–3 a.m. and Sunday noon-8 p.m. Items range from $2.75-$6.25.

 

[NOTE: At the time this post was written, O’Betty’s on Union was open. Since then, the Union location of the hot dog joint has since closed.]

Mouthwatering options at Brenen’s

When walking up and down the brick-lined Court Street, there are plenty of fast food restaurants and chains to choose from. But when looking for a fresh meal made with local ingredients, there is no other place to go than Brenen’s.

Brenen’s Coffee & Café hosts a variety of options for that college student looking for a coffee pick-me-up, a light snack, deli sandwiches, homemade soups and even breakfast items. With all these options, it’s no wonder their Twitter handle is updated daily with witty posts.

Sitting inside Brenen’s looking out onto Court Street.

Athens’ own Brenen’s is located at 38 S. Court St., right in the heart of town. A spacious eatery, Brenen’s offers seating inside as well as a few outside tables.

Once inside, Brenen’s deli menu offers sandwiches including turkey, chicken, ham, beef, bacon, veggie, tuna salad and a low-calorie sandwich menu. Any sandwich can be made to order, so picky eaters, feel free to ask for that sandwich without onions.

Also available are soups. There is always a different soup of the day. Better get to lunch early though — once the soup is gone, it’s sold out for the rest of the day. The best known soup from Brenen’s is available on Wednesdays: the Baja Chicken Enchilada. A spicy, vegetable-filled soup, it’s become a fan favorite of students and locals alike. A cup of a soup this delicious just isn’t enough some days to curb an appetite!

All sandwiches and soups can be available as combos, as well as soup and salad combos and there is even a soup in a bread bowl option.

Another popular item on Brenen’s menu are their baked potatoes. Extra large potatoes,

The Mexicana baked potato doused in cheese.

these babies are a meal with no side needed. There are four different types of potatoes with a fifth, plain potato available to those purists. A personal favorite is the Mexicana potato. Covered in melted cheese and salsa, it’s like a match made in heaven for baked potato lovers, as well as those who love spicy foods.

While the lunch options at Brenen’s are endless, their breakfast items are just as delicious

Former Brenen’s employee, Jacob Hagman, thinks Brenen’s baked goods are their best specialty. Hagman says the sugar cookies are awesome, and the scones come in a range of flavors that are seasonally appropriate. His personal favorite he recommends is the pumpkin scone.
Brenen’s always has homemade baked goods fresh each morning. New additions include: chocolate chip cookie dough brownies and mint butter cream iced chocolate cookies.

The front of Brenen’s offers coffee, frozen drinks as well as baked goods.

Hagman also recommends Brenen’s to incoming freshmen and their families. Hagman says students of all ages and their parents will enjoy the deli and café because since it is locally owned, patrons know they will get a good meal and can count on employees to provide good service every time you return.

For those worried about adding a few notches to one’s belt loop from dining at Brenen’s offers a low calorie menu, available on their website. 

Open from 7:30-8 Mon.-Thurs., 7:30-7 Friday, 9-7 Saturday and 10-7 Sunday, Brenen’s receives a must visit recommendation from this college student.