Scents of charred burgers and hot french fries flow out of the burger joints on Court Street, and greasy chicken and spicy Mexican food smells fill the air around Union Street. It’s quiet, and people are settling down from the weekend. It’s a Sunday night and many people are home, but a few sneak out for a quick bite.
There are many restaurants on Court Street, and some are easy to miss. For more adventurous people, lesser-known places just off Court Street such as Sol, Restaurant Salaam and Zoe are hidden gems.
At 21 West Washington St., not far past Donkey Coffee, Salaam has been around since 2009. Mark and Hilarie Burhans, co-owners of Salaam, originally had a hookah café where Sol is now. They realized they enjoyed the food aspect of business much more and decided to start a restaurant that sold Middle Eastern food. Since starting the restaurant, they’ve had much success. Salaam serves global cuisine, including Indian, North African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food.
“We first started this business to make people happy,” Hilarie Burhans said. “We stayed because we love the people.”
Salaam relies on word of mouth rather than advertising to drive business.
“Once someone comes in and tries the food, we get a loyal customer,” Hilarie Burhans said. “Everyone comes back and they always bring their friends.”
Students have heard about Salaam through organizations and classmates. “I first went to Salaam through Hillel,” OU senior Caitlin Karelitz said. “I have come back a few times after that and have loved it every time.”
Salaam’s customers are a mix of people, with students making up a smaller percentage than at other restaurants around Court Street. One reason they’re less likely to frequent Salaam is time.
Karelitz, a senior, goes Uptown more often than when she was a freshman or sophomore. “Not having a meal plan is hard when you don’t want to cook,” Karelitz said. “But also I don’t have time to visit a sit-down restaurant, which limits my options.”
Salaam offers different options from the usual chain restaurants. A popular meal to order is the falafel, which is eight discs of fried, seasoned ground chickpeas with tahini lemon sauce.
The exotic and calm vibes are very welcoming to anyone who wants to try something different, but Salaam is not the only hidden restaurant on Court Street.
Another big hit Uptown is Sol. This Cuban restaurant, 33 North Court Street, is located in the alleyway between Insomnia Cookies and Wings Over Athens. Being down an alley makes it easy to miss.
Unlike Salaam, Sol does advertise. They have a Facebook page and other advertisements. “People don’t think about Sol because not everyone likes Cuban,” sophomore Erin Pogue said. “Whenever my parents come down, it’s one of our first choices in dining.”
Sol, voted best overall restaurant two years running by the Ohio Brew Week, offers authentic Cuban cuisine as well as traditional American favorites such as steak, fish and ribs. In addition to the variety of food options, Sol offers more than 24 rums, 30 different bottled beers and a selection of red and white wines to complement their menu.
Sol is most known for its brunch starting at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, which is why many students dine there with their parents when they visit. Sol is definitely a place students can go on a budget. Two poplar menu items are the Mac & Cheese with BBQ Pork and the Sol Breakfast, both of which are under $10.
“I think I had a good first experience at Sol,” junior Sammy Presti said. “We went for my friend’s birthday and they had the table ready to go when we got there, which was really nice.” On the weekends it is good to make reservations because it is hard to predict how busy it will be. The best times to go are when they open, either at 11:00 a.m. or 5 p.m. That way they are not as packed.
The third restaurant many people don’t know about is Zoe. This upscale, sophisticated restaurant may be off the radar of the average college student due to its prices. Zoe has a nice bar with a variety of drinks. This is the perfect place for a date night or business meeting.
“I go to Zoe about three or four times a year, and it’s often for business,” Athens native Chris Gillespie said. “The other times are when I get an invitation from friends because usually they pay.”
Zoe differs from Salaam and Sol because they have different styles of food. The food is higher end, specialty items. Originally Zoe served French-American fine dining. Now they still have some French items but have a wider variety in foods such as vegetarian, chicken, steaks and seafood. This is not the place to go to order a burger and fries. The food changes so often that the menus are paper and not laminated. During the summer they have seasonal desserts that include melon-flavored sherbets, a Paw Paw dessert and Baked Alaska. This high-end dining is already exclusive based on the items they serve, but being a little farther off Court Street gives them a physical seclusion.
“The one downfall is there is no place to park,” Gillespie said. “Despite the parking problems, the quality of food outweighs the minor flaws.”
Zoe is a family owned restaurant and has been at its current location, 24 1/2 E. State Street, just past Passion Works Studio, for the past six years. Zoe was started by owner Scott Bradley nine years ago and was previously located in The Plains, where Fluff’s Rickshaw Thai restaurant was more recently. Zoe draws many Athens natives and university faculty members, but many young couples will come in for a special occasion such as Valentine’s Day. Over time they have attracted a younger crowd and hope to continue this growth.
“Zoe has this stigma of being this expensive place,” Front of the House Manager James Farley said. “Once people come in and look at the menu, they discover that it is not as expensive as they think and are usually pleasantly surprised.”
Zoe’s prices may not be the cheapest, but the food that is served justifies the higher prices. Foods that are found on their menu include, cedar plank roasted salmon, flat iron steak, and scallops. The flat iron steak is an $18 meal, which includes a 6 oz. steak, mashed potatoes and vegetables. A very popular and inexpensive meal is the Asiago Gnocchi, which is only $9. This is a great on the go meal for a student who is on a budget, but is tired of the same meal every weekend.
The interior design gives off a fancy, sophisticated look. The open kitchen allows customers to see the cooking in progress. On top of that, they have a mixology night every Wednesday where they have a special cocktail menu separate from their everyday cocktail menu. “During mixology night, we often see many groups of women or men rather than couples,” Farley said. “They are just looking for a relaxing night and usually set up in the bar section.”
Zoe gets its name out through advertisements on WOUB and occasionally running an ad in the Athens News. Most of their service comes from word of mouth. Many regulars will come and bring their friends.
“Location I think is definitely a big reason people don’t know about us because we aren’t directly on Court Street,” Farley said. “I always see people walk past this window, look in and then look up at our sign to see the name and then continue walking. They just don’t know we exist.” The big weekends such as Homecoming and Parents Weekend bring in a lot of customers. Zoe also gets a fair number of customers through business meetings and interviews.
Restaurant Salaam, Sol and Zoe have so much to offer, but their locations stop them from being top of mind. If students break out of their regular routine and go try out these hidden gems, they might just discover a new place they love.
Andie Danesi is a junior Publication Design/Infographics major with a minor in Journalism. She hopes to one day become an art director at a magazine, but until then she values each experience as an opportunity to grow as she continues her love for design. Check out her design portfolio.