A place to unwind

I find myself walking up and down Court Street on a Tuesday evening, looking for a place to sit for a couple of drinks. I could go to any number of diners, shops, or hipster restaurants, but I want something between a dive and a sit-down bar & restaurant.

I choose The Crystal. Its facade is neither repulsive nor wholly appealing. A healthy mix of male and female students sit over drinks at the counter. I find the five TVs over the bar a little excessive when there are only six of us in the building, but some it seems they can’t get enough of sports talk. The shelves behind the bar are lined with a rainbow of flavored vodka and cheap liquor.

I notice a small selection of taps. Alongside the standard American lagers, the Alaskan Amber Ale stands out. I order a glass and the bartender asks for $2.00. “$2.00 for what?” I ask. “That’s how much it costs,” she replies.

The beer is cheap.

Hold on. That’s roughly what this stuff goes for bottled. I’m conditioned to paying six times that at bars in Singapore, and I do most of my drinking at home in my rural town that serves only Bud and Miller on tap. Despite the minor inconvenience of having to pay cash at The Crystal, I decide I’ll find myself here more than once after an evening class.

I take my first sip of beer from a frosty pint glass. The rim is chipped but rounded. I put the glass down so it can warm a bit and be drinkable for enjoyment. Some hip-hop song comes on and repeats, “Know I hit you with that dropkick, Marty Jannetty.” I wonder if any of these kids a decade younger than me know what the hell the guy is singing about. And then I’m suddenly swung into a mix of 2000s alt-rock and emo. The atmosphere is a little uneven.

Rylee, the bartender, thinks so too. She’s left her post at the bar, trying to get the right music going. Frustrated, she settles with Hoobastank’s “The Reason.” At the same time I think, “For god’s sake, why won’t that song die,” a customer expresses the same sentiment to the bartender. We get back on the musical merry-go-round.

As an enormous eight-bladed fan lethargically drifts over top of the bar to keep an already cool night just a bit cooler, I notice that Rylee knows all of her patrons. It seems that this place is the kind people return to for cheap drinks and easy conversation. It has no pretension. So even though I sit in a shirt and tie among a line of twenty-somethings in hoodies and jeans, I find myself comfortable and looking forward to the next time I can drop by to unwind after a long day of high school teaching and college classwork.


Top 5 places to eat before a night out

Are you trying to decide on a place to eat before going out with your friends for your 21st birthday? Maybe you’re going to see a touring Broadway show at Memorial Auditorium but need to find a place to have a quality meal beforehand? With so many wonderful places to eat in Athens, it can be hard to narrow down your choices. No need to worry; I’ve done the research for you! These five eateries, all of which can be found on or just off of Court Street, are the best places to enjoy a meal before any kind of occasion.

Casa Nueva – 6 West State Street (All photos by Brooke Robinson)

Casa Nueva is a classic Athens favorite, and with delicious Mexican-style food, vegan and gluten-free options, and live music, it’s no wonder why. Casa even uses ingredients like pawpaws when they’re in season for a truly unique dining experience. Friendly service, a casual ambience, and some of the best quesadillas in town make this restaurant a hit.

O’Betty’s Red Hot – 15 West State Street

Perhaps you need to grab your food and run? Just across the street from Casa Nueva, O’Betty’s is a great little hole in the wall with famously delectable hot dogs. All the hot dogs on the menu are named after famous exotic and burlesque dancers, and vegetarian options are available. My personal recommendation is the Lily, which comes topped with homemade baked beans and cole slaw. Also, if you’re a cheese fan, their cheesy fries are the bomb. You can’t go wrong with O’Betty’s.

Sol – 33 North Court Street

Athens is known for having a variety of exotic cuisines, and Sol is the epitome of that. This restaurant specializes in Cuban dishes along with traditional college student favorites such as loaded nachos (with cheese, black beans, lettuce, tomato, fire-roasted salsa, red onion, and sour cream – yum). Many of their dishes are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free. Try their Cuban fusion wrap, fish tacos, or maduros (slightly cartelized plantains) and enjoy the friendly staff.

Salaam – 21 West Washington Street

The minute you step into Salaam, the atmosphere sets the stage for the meal you’re about to have. Beaded curtains, colorful tapestries, and the hospitable employees make you feel right at home and ready for some amazing Mediterranean food. Try a plate of their Mediterranean pasta (penne pasta with basil pesto, feta, and sun-dried tomato) or, if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, the vegan vegetable curry with tofu (fresh vegetables with fried tofu and a tomato/coconut milk curry sauce served over basmati rice with coriander chutney and papadum).

Fluff Bakery – 8 North Court Street

Or maybe you’re more of the Leslie Knope-type and prefer to just fill up on dessert or baked goods before going out. Although Fluff Bakery also carries entrée-type food (sandwiches, salads, and salmon, just to name a few), they’re best known for their bakery, as you may have guessed. Their cannoli, pumpkin and red velvet cupcakes, macaroons, cinnamon twists, etc., are to die for. If you’re not hungry before walking in, the smell of the kitchen will have your mouth watering in no time.

Holy Guacamole owners crash in West Virginia

Local food truck phenom Holy Guacamole was temporarily put out of commission when the Nagy family, who own and run the truck, were in a car accident in West Virginia on Oct. 14, 2015. The family reported the accident on Holy Guacamole’s Facebook page and stated that “…Everyone is banged up and recovering. [The] Van totaled…” following with a message of uncertainty with regards to their reopening.

Rudy Nagy, owner of Holy Guacamole, with his two sons. Image taken from Holy Guacamole’s Facebook page.

Fortunately for the Nagy family and the taco fans of southeastern Ohio, just one day later on Oct. 15, Holy Guacamole reopened at Little Fish Brewery at 8675 Armitage Rd. in Athens. The truck was at the brewery from 5 to 8 p.m.

This family accident comes on the tails of another fender-bender. Earlier this month, on Oct. 3, the taco trailer crashed into the truck while the proprietors were driving down U.S. Route 33 on their way to the Fiber Faire at the Athens Community Center.

The food truck serves traditional Guatemalan tacos and tamales, among other dishes. The Facebook page is filled not only with requests for new locations, but also messages of support and love in the wake of the accident. The community feels very connected to the family business with most fans calling Nagy by his first name, Rudy.

In response to concerns the family issued this response on Oct. 15, “Wow! Thanks everyone! We are touched by your kindness! We made it back yesterday. Rudy immediately started working, because that’s what Rudy does! Work! Work! Work! Nothing slows him down! He’s open today, even though his body is really hurting.”

For more information about Holy Guacamole check out this short feature from the Athens Messenger.


Treat Yo Self at the Athens Farmer’s Market

The push to support local products has greatly increased in recent years. With the growth of genetically modified foods, it has been more and more difficult to find fresh produce that has not been unnaturally altered in some way.

Fortunately, Athens has an answer to both of these dilemmas. Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., the Athens Farmer’s Market is open in the parking lot beside Texas Roadhouse on East State Street. Additionally, the Farmer’s Market is open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Wednesdays from April through December and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays from May through September.

The Farmer’s Market is a delight in the fall. On a crisp Saturday morning in the autumn, what could be better than sampling and buying some great local foods? The market is brimming with all kinds of delectable fall eats: apple cider made with locally grown apples, squash, kettle corn, pumpkin pies and bread, maple walnut fudge, you name it.

I visited the Athens Farmer’s Market to talk to a few vendors about their bestselling fall items and why they chose this market as a venue for their products.