Much more than student fare – sophisticated foods in Athens, Ohio
© Becky Linhardt 2012
Sophisticated tastes and a commitment to local food sources make Athens,Ohio a destination for food lovers of all ages. It may be that the college idealism about the value of food in their lives and a belief in the goodness of natural foods, vegetarianism and vegan tastes spread to the natives of the area. However, I have a feeling that, as omnivores, the locals have always valued their locally produced foods. You really do not find many chain or fast food restaurants in this area of southeastern Ohio – that’s a good thing.
Working cooperatively, a number of restaurants in the area have committed to using local food sources and are promoting that freshness and quality regionally and with postings in their establishments about their participation in the “30-mile meal” program, guaranteeing that a majority of their food sources are farms and vendors within a 30-mile radius of their restaurant. Even the Kroger store on State Street made a commitment with a full aisle of local and Ohio foods. The “locavore” offerings range from white table cloth urban sophistication at Zoe’s Fine Dining to a quick stop for heavenly baked goods at The Village Bakery and Cafe or Fluff Bakery & Catering.
At “30-mile meal” establishments you will see changes to the menu on a seasonal basis. It also means that they have relationships with the farmers and butchers that allow them to ask for certain fruits, vegetables, styles of cheese and cuts of meat to meet their creative inspirations for their kitchen. Ginger in goat cheese – why not?
Then again if your are preparing the ethnic foods of the Middle Eastern crescent from Morocco to India there will be a need for special herbs, Halal cuts of meat, dried beans and unique vegetables not usually grown in Ohio gardens. Farmers, knowing they have a market with a regular customer such as the Restaurant Salaam, are more likely to cultivate a special request vegetable or herb.
Sometimes you source foods from relatives as is the case with Fluff Bakery. They use their family connection to relatives with a nearby dairy farm for milk and butter used in their heavenly pastries, breads, and more. Also a 30-mile meal participant, their coffee is locally roasted to meet the tastes of their customer base of college student, professors, locals, courthouse and business professionals.
Even the local hot dog place, O’Betty’s makes a commitment to locally sources meats – and even the casings. The proof is in the flavor but that doesn’t mean that these serious foodies can’t have fun too – with a Hot Dog Museum in the back dining section of their location onWest State Street.
Sure there is a bar scene for the college kids but there is also a growing micro-brewery element in town crafting unique beers and wineries to visit in the countryside. Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery has a downtown presence and an international clientele. Maybe it’s the internet connections but the servers began noticing an increase in foreign languages not related to the student population and found that some customers had come to their brewery specifically to taste some of their specialty beers.
The food choices for vegetarians and vegans include exotic flavors from other cultures as well as the simple goodness of seasonally available foods at the year round Farmers’ Market. Casa Nueva, a worker owned restaurant for almost 30 years, has one of the largest selections of truly flavorful and well-thought vegetarian and vegan offerings including wonderful unique breakfasts with protein sources other than eggs and meat.
If you really want to meet the source of your food, contact the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau. A number of agri-businesses welcome visitors, selling directly to customers at Farmers’ Markets and their farms. The milking goats at Integration Acres are so sweet and they seem to like the few people that manage to navigate the back roads to visit.
Athens County Convention & Visitors Bureau: 667 East State Street, Athens, OH 45701
www.athensohio.com or 800-878-9767