Since Jodie drove to Athens to visit Becky for the holiday, the Sunday after Baesgiving 2017 gave us the opportunity to add to our travel brunch experience by visiting one of the lone brunch spots in Becky’s little college town – Restaurant Salaam.
Setting the Scene
A beautiful, bright, and brisk November day lured us out from under the covers and the delightful purrs of a loving kitty.
We arrived to a sparsely populated downtown, definitely owing to the holiday weekend. While we prefer to always sit at the bar, Salaam’s setup does not have this option. We did, however, have our choice of seats when we arrived around 12:30, and were treated to excellent service from Ben and lively music, of some French acoustic guitar variety. The eclectic décor and warm atmosphere made us feel right at home.
Amenities and Accessibility
While the rolling Appalachian hills are challenging, Salaam has an accessible door and restrooms. The restrooms are all-gender and one has a child changing table (dads are welcome!). The dining floor itself is very accessible, thanks to the mobility of its seating. Salaam does accommodate large groups, so seating is flexible. Again, we are grateful for any input from our readers.
Food and Drink
Salaam’s menu features a creative take on traditional breakfast dishes, with a global spin. As their website states, “Our eclectic menu includes traditional and traditionally-inspired dishes from the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, North Africa, Thailand, India and Pakistan, with a focus on fresh local foods.” Dishes like the Grand Salaam Breakfast and the Daily Salomelette offer a fun play on the restaurant’s namesake and a nod to traditional American breakfast fare. On Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm, they offer a bottomless mimosa package for $12. Last call is at 1:59, so pace your mimosas accordingly.
The OJ is freshly squeezed, and unlike Chicago, the bubbles weren’t from the standard J Roget or Wycliff. The cava was Pascual Toso from Argentina, a smooth and understated wine. Definitely a step up in our brunch drink standards.
Jodie ordered the chakchouka: a spicy Tunisian pepper and tomato stew crowned with two local eggs and baked, with toasted French bread to sop up the flavor, and a cup of fresh fruit.
The dish arrived still bubbling hot from the oven, trailed by a decadent fragrance. The eggs were a deep golden orange (something you only get from non-factory sourced birds), and broke open at the touch of a fork into a molten stream. The stew itself has a fascinating history, but is most popular during colder months, and with good reason.
The warmth of the cumin, pepper and chili combined with the subtle richness of the tomatoes and peppers made it feel like Jodie never got out of bed. The sturdy chickpeas provided a dense vessel for all of these flavors. It’s a cosy onesie for your tummy. And while the bread was crisply toasted and delicious, Jodie felt like a toasted pita would have been more ideal for dipping into this decadent stew. She is not a traditionalist by any means, but sometimes the bread needs to match the dish, historical colonialism be damned.
Becky decided to go with the Daily Salomelette, which was made of local farm eggs with Roma tomatoes, asparagus, fresh garlic, creamy four cheese béchamel (on the side) and fresh herbs. It was served with oven-roasted rosemary potatoes, a whole wheat biscuit, and side of fresh fruit. The béchamel was rich and cheesy and the omelette was fresh and well-made, with the robust bite of perfectly cooked asparagus. The potatoes were flavorful and crisp and the biscuit, while a little overcooked on the outside, was tender on the inside. The fruit was surprisingly fresh for late fall. All-in-all, Becky was satisfied with the dish, but overtly jealous of Jodie’s order.
The architecture and décor. Much of Athens has gone through a steady change of businesses while retaining the quaint beauty of the external structures. There is a contrast between the warmth of the restaurant and the exposed internal structure that isn’t a tension, but a reminder of the progression and history of the town. There is an appreciation of the old, blended right in with the new. It makes our nerdy hearts glow.
Atmosphere. Athens is a notorious party town, with sports bars aplenty. Salaam is a serene departure from crushing brews and bombs.
The view into the open kitchen. We love seeing the people who make the things we love at work.
The small-town girl comes through! We give Salaam a round of applause and a 9 out of 10 mimosa rating, our highest-rated restaurant thus far. The food, the atmosphere, and especially the service and champagne have put Salaam at the top of our brunch experiences. While it’s a long drive to enjoy, if you find yourself in Athens, Ohio, be sure to stop by.
Pro Tips – Optimize Your Experience
- Come back for dinner. Our brunch options in Athens are limited, but Salaam’s dinner offerings are expansive. The salads, appetizers, and homemade bread are well worth an evening visit. Bring your parents.
- Got an event? Salaam caters.
- Come to town on a holiday weekend, or when school is not in session. It’s delightfully quiet, parking is abundant, and the staff of every venue is calm and accommodating. The best part of every college town is when the students aren’t there. Yes. We’re old.
- Split the chakchouka, and ask for extra bread (or pita, if you’re so inclined). It is enough food for two people, but opt for an appetizer if both people are famished.