Go for the Food: Athens, Ohio

by Philip Elliot

Associated Press

Thursday May 8, 2014

There's a reason there is almost always a wait at the Court Street Diner here.

The menu is heavy on simple favorites: thick slabs of meatloaf, fries piled so high they tumble off the plates, creamy whipped milkshakes. It's classic American fare that doesn't take too much imagination to create or explaining to appreciate.

But it's done so well, it doesn't much matter.

The diner, popular with students from nearby Ohio University and local residents alike, isn't the place for those counting calories. The omelets are made with four eggs, ranch dressing is an option for the burgers, and the grilled cheese sandwich comes as a double-decker, thank you very much.

That's before the desserts. Three-layer chocolate cake slathered with icing, mint ice cream pie and fudge brownies served hot with ice cream are just a few of the options.

This is not a restaurant acquainted with moderation.

The polished silver diner sits in the middle of an area known as Uptown, where Court Street is made of the same red brick found throughout the university just two blocks away. If there is a wait - and there usually is - plenty of nearby shops can keep visitors busy exploring the quirky college town.

The menu focuses on greasy spoon-style offerings and does not try to reinvent diner favorites or modernize anything. This is not high-brow food or a reinterpretation of what mom made. Ketchup and mustard are on the table in plastic squeeze bottles and the napkins are paper.

While deciding on an entree, order a made-from-scratch cinnamon roll for the table to share. The hulking pastries are served warm and laden with buttercream icing. It doesn't matter if the sun has set; these breakfast treats are an indulgence worth having any time of day.

Breakfast is served all day, inviting guests to try what the Court Street Diner calls Huevos Locos: a bed of hash browns piled with scrambled eggs, onions, ham, jalapenos, red and green peppers, all of which then is topped with cheddar cheese and salsa. It's intimidating when it arrives on the table.

A lunch favorite is the patty melt. The beef burger piled high with sauteed onions and melted yellow American cheese is served on grilled marbled rye. It's a throwback for sure, but one that goes well with the salty fries and pickle spears on the side.

For dinner? Grab the juicy meatloaf, piled atop mashed potatoes, of course. Served in a portion large enough to share, the slab of the diner specialty manages to stay moist without being greasy, and the edges have a nice crunch. Since the meal already has blown your caloric budget, you might as well order a strawberry shake served in its blending tin and topped with whipped cream from a can.

Located a little more than an hour outside Columbus, the college town in the foothills of southeast Ohio is home to plenty of other dining options, as well.

Around the corner from the Court Street Diner, Zoe's serves dishes based on seasonal produce and local farms. The lemon risotto on a recent visit was bright and fresh and can be topped with whatever fresh seafood the chef eyes.

Up the block, Stephen's on Court is a bit more upscale, but still in keeping with this town's chill vibe.

For those looking for a snack, Donkey Coffee and Espresso, tucked on a side street just off Court, has hand-crafted drinks and a rotating selection of baked goods and pastries. Live music is a frequent - and free - source of entertainment in the rear room.

Closer to campus, Jackie O's BrewPub and the next-door Public House offer bar snacks such as fried cheese curds, kettle chips and pizzas, as well as Celtic music and open stage nights. The real draw, though, is the rotating list of house-made beers. The Razz Wheat, a raspberry wheat ale, is sweet without being syrupy. The Tongue Thai'd is a spicy version of an IPA that has plenty of bite. And the Black Betty, a raspberry and vanilla porter, is a terrific after-dinner option.

If anyone can handle anything else after that meatloaf, of course.

If You Go:

COURT STREET DINER: 18 N. Court St., Athens, Ohio, 740-594-8700

ZOE'S: 24 1/2 E. State St., Athens, Ohio, 740-592-4443

STEPHEN'S ON COURT: 66 N. Court St., Athens, Ohio, 740-594-7132

DONKEY COFFEE AND ESPRESSO: 17 1/2 W. Washington St., Athens, Ohio, 740-594-7353

JACKIE O'S: 22 W. Union St., Athens, Ohio, 740-592-9686

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