College-town Athens, nestled in southeast Ohio, has a lot of pizza to cater to the Ohio University crowd, and each local place offers a little different style. You can enjoy the thick-cut, bready by-the-slice type at Goodfella’s, or a little more quality thick-crush pizza at Courtside Pizza. Or, you can head to Avalanche Pizza for a toppings-loaded monster of a slice. But until recently, the lovely wide-brimmed New York-style pizza remained elusive in this town. That changed last year when a vacated sub shop was replaced by Franco’s Pizza Place, immediately popular for its very foldable slices.
What used to be more of a quiet events venue on the western edge of Athens has been transformed into a public gathering space for the first time in years. And it’s about time; Athens’ west end doesn’t have a lot of restaurants or hang out places if you live there — as I did for two years — and there wasn’t a lot to draw people around campus and to the east this far away. Now that’s changed. This spot isn’t just a bar, but also kind of a hang-out space, a little more low-key than what you will find uptown on Court Street. That’s a nice thing, especially during the day, and especially when you need somewhere to relax a little bit.
Athens has a ton of options for Chinese food, but other cuisines from Asia are actually pretty hard to come by in the College town. Sure, a few places to sushi, and a few others have pad Thai but that’s about it. Thai Paradise has brought the change; opened in 2008 in Pickerington, east of Columbus, this destination staked out a spot in Athens in 2014 and since then has been the go-to place for Thai food in town. With a great selection of dishes to try, and a feel that is just a bit on the nicer side, this is one you will want to try.
For a very long time, the storefront at 63 North Court Street stood vacant. The spot, formerly known as the Blue Gator, closed in 2007 and didn’t come back to life until recently. Now re-imagined as “The Over Hang,” this new Athens bar sports a spacious interior for dancing and a large bar where people come and enjoy both food and drinks and some company. It’s a dark and spacious interior and another spot along Court Street where the college crowd gathers to enjoy a few drinks and some lively company.
There’s a lot of traditional Chinese food to try in Athens, but it’s pretty hard to come by something quite like Ginger Asian Cuisine. This long-awaited restaurant was announced in 2012, but it took the better part of a year before it came to fruition. The spot serves Japanese sushi, Chinese lo mein noodles and rice bowls, and Korean kimchi. Also, it serves frozen yogurt in its downstairs area, “Yogurt Alley.” Ginger is a great addition to the vibrant Court Street dining scene for its convenience.
The intersection of Union and Richland Ave. in Athens has long hosted a walk-up Asian food option, until very recently when O’Betty’s expanded here with a short lived second location. Now Fusion has opened up shop in the corner spot, a noodle house with Chinese and Thai styles. Fusion has some spectacular things to try, and really it’s a great use for the spot. As with some of the other newer spots, this isn’t the kind of food you can find in other parts of Athens very easily. And it’s good to go.
The digs at 19 South Court Street have not been kind to businesses. GG’s Bubble Tea lasted only a year, and before that, 19 South Bar and Grill didn’t fare much better. Owner Dylan Armstrong, however, seems intent to remember lessons learned from the previous concept, and when The Dragon’s Cup opened in March 2012, it featured not only all of the menu of its former tenant, but also some creative new additions to make the business more versatile. In addition to the bubble teas, The Dragon’s Cup offers herbal teas of many varieties as well as some simple Asian dishes and treats from other local bakeries.
A newer addition to Athens’ Court Street buggy scene, the artist formerly known as Chica Chica Chop Chop has taken things up a notch by transforming into a full-blown restaurant. Owners Todd and Tuti Wilson have kept a blog detailing the restaurant’s construction and beginnings, and it will soon be open to the townsfolk. The ambitious owners have even attracted the attention of Food Network, and the enterprising Cuban food establishment has opted for a new menu, new environment and an all-new bar concept, essentially remaking their product in the process. Ambitious, indeed.
Another stop along the localvore train in Athens, Village Bakery is a part of a group of three co-owned restaurants in town specializing in home-grown fare, both as a coffee shop and as a lunch stop, along with next door neighbor Della Zona Pizzeria. The businesses not only rely on local suppliers for ingredients, but they subsequently sell their things to places like Brew du Solil Cafe down the street. As I’ve said before, the “30 mile club” in Athens never ceases to amaze me with how tightly-knit the businesses are. They’re constantly out to support each other, and it might be the nicest business model I’ve seen yet.