Court Street provides a wide variety of places to eat and drink. Whether one visits one of the many bars or one of the several coffee shops, uptown Athens knows how to please even the pickiest of eaters. In this video I take a trip on Court Street and interview two patrons about their favorite spot uptown.
When I first came to Ohio University in 2008, I was just taking a weekend trip with my family to visit my parent’s alma mater for the first time. The brick roads, the smell of the Burrito Buggy, the exhausting hills, the trees. Everything in Athens to me was picture perfect.
But then I stepped foot inside a football stadium, but this was not just a football field with some bleachers. This football stadium had a spirit like I have never seen at any sporting venue. There was a hill that stretched behind one of the endzones, there was a view of the rolling hills just over the Hocking River, but there also was history written since 1929 stored inside every brick.
This was Peden Stadium.
I stepped foot on the field (though I was not supposed to), and felt a chill down my spine. If that chill was the spirit of Athens hitting me like a ton of bricks or just a cool breeze I will never know. But I realized at that moment that I too will become a Bobcat, just like my parents were 20 years earlier.
Fast forward five years, and it was my first week on campus as a student at Ohio University. I was overwhelmed by all the activity on campus, and I had a hard time becoming friends with my roommate. I decided to go to a football game with my learning community to celebrate my first week surviving college. Was it awkward? At first, yes, but as the night went on I bonded with my new friends about football, art, Billy Joel, Stephen Colbert and Big Mamma’s. By the end of the night, we all decided to go to games on a weekly basis and maybe hang out a time or two at James Hall.
Today, two of those guys are my roommates in our apartment on Court Street, and a few others from that night are still some of my best friends.
I still go to games on a weekly basis, even if it means sitting in freezing temperatures just to get a two-second cameo on ESPN. I have sang the national anthem with the Singing Men of Ohio on homecoming, and watched my friends play with the Marching 110. Every week in the fall is a new chance to make another memory at Peden Stadium.
I don’t love Peden because our football team plays well enough to go to a bowl game or because the Marching 110 is the most exciting band in the land when they play halftime (which is true). I love Peden because I felt that chill almost eight years ago to join OU, and because I met some people that would change my life all inside the brick walls of Peden Stadium.
Once I graduate from OU, I hope I can go back on the field and feel that chill one more time.
I love food, especially late at night, so I was searching for a classic food place when I arrived in Athens. The gem I discovered was
Big Mamma’s Burrito located on Court Street.
Mamma’s has been serving burritos late night since 2005. In the bio, it describes Big Mamma’s as having the “Best Damn Burrito Shop in Athens.”
My two favorite things about Big Mamma’s are one the burrito,and two the experience inside Big Mamma’s. I have enjoyed almost every burrito I have ever gotten from there. It always hits the spot for me. The experience of Big Mamma’s is what puts it over the top. There are always a bunch of characters in there late night that make for great laughs. Eating a tasty burrito and having good laughs is why Big Mamma’s Burritos is my gem.
We’ve all been there. It’s 1 a.m. on Sunday. You’re craving something that only one uptown eatery can satisfy. You’re not looking for anything fancy or sophisticated. You’ve given up counting calories for now. Maybe you’ll start that diet next week.
Right now, you’re just looking to gorge out on a warm, soft burrito.
But if you’re going to give in to your desire for a late night Big Mama’s run, you’ll have to learn to cope with the emotional burden that comes along with it. Sure, it seems like a good idea at first. But that sense of excitement can quickly give way to a more complex set of feelings.
Luckily, if you know what to expect, you can prepare yourself and hopefully avoid a serious Tex-Mex induced breakdown.
Here are the seven stages of Big Mama’s binging.
No matter how you got here, you’ve found yourself inside the restaurant. The door has closed behind you, you’ve stepped in line. There’s no turning back now. The smell of seasoned beef and spicy salsa wafts in the air.
At this point you only have one thing on your mind: getting your burrito. You can almost taste the smoky, spicy chipotle ranch and feel the satisfying smoosh of the tortilla, beans and meats.
You’ve made your way to the front of the line, and suddenly you have some choices to make. The time for fantasy is over. Now it’s time to take action.
You scan the menu you’ve peered at dozens of times before. Do you want Chipotle Ranch or Mama Grande? Black or refried beans? Chicken or beef … or should you go with chorizo?
You consider just ordering a Baby, but you decide you didn’t come here to fool around. Tonight you mean business. Make it a full-sized Mamma Grande, everything on it, add guac.
A funny thing happens between the time you place your order and when they finally call your number. Time seems to move at an excruciatingly slow pace. It’s been less than a minute, but it already seems like you’ve missed at least two birthdays. You check your phone, do anything to take your mind off your burrito-less state of being.
You check your ticket number — 73.
“68!,” one of the workers calls.
This is going to take a while.
4. The “Honeymoon” Period
Joy of joys, your number finally comes up. You grab the burrito, thank the worker, and feverishly rip the foil off from one end.
Your first few bites are pure ecstasy. You are in love. You’re pretty sure you’ve reached the absolute pinnacle of sensory experiences. This is the happiest moment of your life.
Your friends try to get your attention. They want to go to Wendy’s. But you don’t listen. You’re fixated on your burrito.
Everything started out so beautifully. Now, three-fourths of the way through your burrito, you’re not even sure if you want it anymore.
You know you’re facing an uphill battle. With every bite, you grow more and more uninterested. But you’ve come here on a mission. You swore a silent vow to yourself , and you refuse to give up on the very thing that you once longed for with every fiber of your being.
You feel it in your gut first. You begin to question everything in your life, but specifically why you were so foolish to think that eating a whole Mamma Grande at this hour of the night would be a good idea.
Eventually, the feeling spreads to your chest and abdomen. It finally manifests itself as a sharp pain in your heart — a combination of profound sorrow and stomach acid.
After lying comatose on your stomach for more than half an hour, everything suddenly comes into perspective. The pain you once felt has transformed into a sense of lethargy, resignation and, ultimately, satisfaction.
You pop a couple of Tums and crawl off to bed. In the morning you’ll likely have a bit of a sour stomach, but you’ll be well on your way to recovery. By Monday, it will be business as usual.
The important thing, you realize as your eyes grow heavy, is that for a few brief moments you experienced true happiness. You held it in your hands, in all its warm, cheesy, saucy, spicy, soft, meaty wonder.
Maybe you’ve learned a thing or two from the experience.
But, then again, you know that by next week, you’ll probably go through the entire process again.
Ohio University is one of those schools where you know you can find a good drink or two — or however many you want. And you can’t have good, cheap beer or a liquor pitcher without some good, greasy, cheap food to go along with it. And no surprise, Athens is not lacking in late-night eats. But how can anybody choose just one? Especially after a few too many beers.
From massive Big Mamma’s Burritos to the classic Chicken N Waffle from Uptown Grill, you can go on an epic journey to find a piece of grub (or two or three … maybe four) that will tickle your fancy and absorb some of that alcohol.
It’s about 2 a.m. It’s a typical Friday night (Saturday morning, really) in Athens. The street lights reflect off of the bricks. There’s the “thump-thud” of bass coming from the apartments above, and the streets of lower Court Street are swarming with girls, guys, townies, and all manner of college-aged young people migrating in and out of the multiple bars that line the road. And as these bars ring “final call” bells, the flood of drunk coeds starts to trek to their next destination. Some go home, whether it be their own home or someone else’s. But a lot of these inebriated folks head toward their favorite late-night eateries, where they can chow down on the quick, cheap, and greasy delicacies that make drinking in Athens all worth it.
Rachel Daub is one of those coeds.
Daub, an Ohio University senior majoring in publication design, is no stranger to Uptown Athens. If you run into her after a night of beers and shots, she’ll most likely be on her way to Jimmy John’s or GoodFella’s, ready to get her fix of a slimy sandwich or a corner-piece pizza.
“It’s pretty much the known outcome of the night,” Daub says. “They are my go-tos. On rare occasions my friends might be able to persuade me into going somewhere else, but it’s usually either GoodFella’s, Jimmy Johns, or nothing.”
Her friend Emily Brockmann, a familiar comrade in Daub’s nights of drinks and chow, is also an avid GoodFella’s enthusiast.
“I feel like I’m always craving pizza no matter what time of the day it is so when I’m drunk I’m craving it even more. It’s greasy and saucy and cheesy, which is always 10 times better when you’re drunk and it’s so easy to eat too that I just love it so much.”
Preventing hangovers since 1995, GoodFella’s has two locations within walking distance, one on West Union Street and one near the end of Court Street. With pizza served hot and ready, and two slices plus a drink for $5, it’s no wonder the pizza joint is a late-night favorite. Hannah Cook, a GoodFella’s employee since 2010, says the laid-back atmosphere makes it a great place to work and an even better place to buy food.
“Even in the midst of crazy drunkenness and having to deal with people, it’s a very easy-going place,” she says.
Another late night top-dog, the mother of all burrito babies, is Big Mamma’s Burritos. Big Mamma’s serves burritos the size of a small child. Perfect for the nights where you don’t need a snack, but need a full-fledged meal. Spicy meat, gooey cheese, veggies and all kinds of tasty sauce blend together to form the perfect alcohol-absorbing system. This staple of Athens culture is a bucket-list must for any student who claims to attend Ohio University.
Melaina Lewis, a senior majoring in public relations, takes a timeout from her night of bar hopping to sit on the steps of the Athens Courthouse and enjoy a Big Mamma’s Chipotle Ranch burrito.
“It’s fantastic,” she says. “I’ve had so many of these since I’ve been at OU and I never get tired of them. And luckily they sell mini-sized burritos because I don’t know if I’d be able to consume a whole child-sized one by myself.”
With dozens of combinations, Big Mamma’s provides unlimited options for the ever-indecisive drunk. And as Lewis notes, the fact that they offer smaller burritos for only $6 makes it a great place for those who want a burrito, just maybe not a human-baby-sized one.
And despite being notorious for long lines and a chaotic atmosphere, Big Mamma’s continues to compete with GoodFella’s for the top spot in the heart of late night eaters.
“I waited for about 10 minutes for my burrito,” says Lewis. “But it was definitely worth it. There are always fun characters and things happening in Big Mamma’s and it all just adds to the experience.”
So what is it about GoodFella’s, Big Mamma’s and the rest of these late night eateries that are so appealing to Ohio University students and drinkers alike?
“I think that owners of these places just know that now is the opportune moment to make these kinds of food available,” says Lewis. “We’re young and in college, so obviously we’re going to be drinking excessively and then not caring about what we want to eat, so the combination of drunkenness and bad judgment makes it a total win for them. And us.”
Whether it’s grab-and-run places like GoodFella’s and Uptown Grill, or sit-down and chill places like Union Street Diner and Wendy’s, the combination of drunkenness and good food can make eating at these restaurants an experience to remember. And adding old friends and new friends into the mix can make it even better.
“These restaurants are usually places where you end up meeting people randomly, so that’s always a good outcome,” explains Daub. “And events like HallOUween or Santa Fest are the kind of nights that are awesome to see people dressed up in costumes that are standing in line for a slice of pizza or a sandwich. And then running into your friends and having that common goal of food after drinking is always a great moment.“
Of course, as one can expect when alcohol is involved, there are a few horror stories that happen at the late night eateries.
“I saw the best, funniest fight,” says Daub. “I was in Wendy’s one night and these two guys got in a fist-fight over a frosty. That’s probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”
And as an employee at one of the most popular joints in Athens, Cook has seen her fair share of crazy.
“People have thrown pizza across the place, and there’s been some barfing incidents, which is never fun. We had someone try and come in through the back door and steal a case of Gatorade. Things like that happen a lot.”
Just as Robin Hood is the sidekick to Batman, late night eats are the sidekick, wingman, and accessory to the bars that line the streets of Athens. They’re the celebration after the big game. A standing ovation after a great performance. Without these places, would nightlife in Athens be as fun? Maybe. But there is definitely a great amount of value added to a night out because of these fantastic food establishments. And graduation will always come too soon for OU seniors to bear.
“I think that since I’ve turned 21, the bars and GoodFella’s have been like my go-to combination,” say Daub. “That’ll definitely be something I miss when I move away, I won’t be able to satisfy my cravings for GoodFellas or anything that comes as good and as cheap as drinks and food on Court Street.”
Mallory Haack is a senior at Ohio University in the School of Visual Communication majoring in publication design & information graphics, with a minor in art. She recently completed an internship at the Gannett Design Studio in Nashville and is currently employed as a graphic designer for the Patton College of Education. She loves to travel and has been to London, Paris, Sydney, Mexico, etc.
As a freshman I was intimidated the first time I came to campus. Crazy thoughts ran through my mind.
What if I look like a freshman?
Am I going to get picked on?
How the heck am I going to find friends?
The one thing I was most conflicted about was where to go and what to eat. Where do all the hot guys go to eat? Of course that was a stupid thought because it’s not like they congregate in one place. Or do they?
Now, as an upperclassman, I know a few answers to those questions, but I’ll leave it to the newbies to figure out the answers. The one thing I will provide is a list of the top five (or eight) most popular spots to eat and drink on the most popular street in Athens — Court Street.
In a tie for the No. 2 spot we have Jackie O’s and Bagel Street DeliSurveying upperclassmen about where to go and what to eat is no easy feat. With a small sample of only 46 people, the answers were relatively varied. But as most of America knows, Chipotle is always the place to go, and according to OU students, we Bobcats follow the American way.
I was hoping for some unique restaurant you can find only in Athens as the No. 1 spot, but our taste buds are accustomed to those “bomb-ass carnitas,” as one student put it. I didn’t even need to ask what the newbies should get there because let’s face it, it’s Chipotle, even I know what to get there (and I don’t even like it). Quite frankly, it gives me heartburn that I would like to avoid.
My best friend and roommates are so “addicted,” it’s as if they can’t live without it. After the Union Street fire in November, multiple posts on Yik Yak, an anonymous gossip app, spread the rumor that Court Street Chipotle would be closed for the rest of the semester. Although untrue, the posts caused some students to start planning trips to Lancaster or Columbus just to get their carnitas. It seemed people were more worried about their burrito fix than the fire itself. So I guess it makes sense Chipotle stole the No. 1 spot.
While I have never been to either location, I have heard rave reviews about both places. Unfortunately, Jackie O’s Public House was forced to close for several weeks after the fire and just recently reopened and is serving food again.
Bagel Street Deli has a long list of almost every bagel creation you can think of. Even though it looks like a hole in the wall, there is so much potential behind those doors. It is definitely on my college bucket list (which you should consider making). Some of the most popular bagels are the Tom’s Turkey, the pizza bagel, and Da Carmella. They have so many combinations on the menu it is almost impossible to not find something you like. Don’t be scared when you walk in. On Parent’s Weekend last year, my family and I decided to try it out. We walked in, saw it was extremely crowded and my anxiety about not knowing what to order got the best of me and we ran out of there. Don’t do that! Just try it and you may become as addicted to it as my friends are to Chipotle.
The No. 3 spot belongs to The Pub. Although it is farther down Court Street, don’t be afraid to venture to the “bar side,” as I call it. There are so many bars on the far end of Court Street that it is hard to figure out which one to try. Take a look at some of the bar pieces on Court Street Stories.com to learn about some of the watering holes around town.
The Pub sticks out like a sore thumb on Court Street, with its wood slats painted an odd shade of green, and the sign looking a little weathered and outdated. According to the survey, one of the best things to get is a burger. It doesn’t matter what kind, it is your burger after all, so get what you want, but they are supposedly delicious. At night is when the fun comes out, with a rainbow usually appearing in multiple shot glasses. If you don’t know what rainbow shots are, either just go and try them or check out Tipsy Bartender on YouTube. The intro is a very pretty collection of rainbow shots. Another item is the Aquarium Beer, which is basically beer in a fishbowl that you can suck down with friends or just get drunk solo. Again, if you are not of age, add it to the bucket list but at least try a burger. I mean, who doesn’t love a good burger?
The No. 4 spot must have been a tough decision because The Pigskin, Casa Nueva and Big Mamma’s Burritos all tied.
The Pigskin is one of the “prettier” bars on Court Street, meaning it doesn’t necessarily look like a typical Athens bar but more of a “restaurant undercover,” so to say. With an all-glass front, it is also one of the most recognizable. One of the most popular items is the Thin Mint shot. It supposedly tastes exactly like the Girl Scout cookie. I don’t know about you, but I love Girl Scout cookies and Thin Mints are one of my favorites, so this shot is definitely on my list.
Casa Nueva is popular among OU students. They have some good food, and I can say that because I have actually been there. Rare, I know. The margaritas are a big hit as well as the nachos. “Casa” features karaoke nights and live bands. The atmosphere is unique and you don’t have to be 21 years old to enjoy what they have to offer. Big Mamma’s Burritos is also relatively well-known, mostly because a lot of people consider it “drunk food.” They are open late and burritos are pretty easy to carry, so it makes sense. Some crowd faves include the Buffalo Mamma and the Chipotle Ranch Mamma.
Finally, the No. 5 spot is Stephen’s On Court. This restaurant/bar is a little more upscale than others on Court Street, but the pasta is really good from the students’ point of view. The popular shot is a Chocolate Covered Pretzel Shot, which sounds amazing to me. Although they are situated on the opposite end of Court Street from campus, it is still worth a try to get there during your time at OU.
The main reason people chose these places was because of the price. Everyone knows that college kids have little to no money. My only question is how are they buying this food? We complain about how broke we are, but we are still buying $7 burritos and shots every weekend. But here’s the catch — the food is so much better than Ramen noodles in the microwave on a Monday night. A lot of it is locally grown, which supports the community and makes you feel like you contributed something. The atmosphere of these places is also a big draw. Some are a little more relaxed than others, you just have to figure out what you are in the mood for.
Now that you know the top places to eat around campus, and what to get there, you can start working on the answer to the most important question: Where do you go to find the attractive people on campus? If this article hasn’t taught you anything, at least now you know that they are probably as obsessed with Chipotle as the next Bobcat.
Taylor Feeney is a junior Visual Communications major at Ohio University. Her dream job is to be a freelance web designer or to own a small startup situated somewhere warm and sunny. She loves to read and drinks a lot of coffee so she can stay up late on a Netflix binge while making ugly websites pretty.