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Ciro Italian Kitchen and Bar on West Union Street in Athens, Mar. 18, 2024.

Businesses, students find lack of fine dining in Athens

Food is an inherent and dominant part of a culture, connecting people by bringing them together to enjoy a meal, feast or snack. Indulging in diverse cultural foods goes beyond the ingredients; it often involves preparation and presentation, too.

Fine dining is a highly formal presentation of well-crafted foods, and an atmospheric experience to revel in. The current food climate of Athens lacks an abundance of fine-dining spots. 

Employees of Athens’ very own, Cutler's, located in the Ohio University Inn at 331 Richland Ave., remarked on this phenomenon. 

“There are not a lot of options,” Steven Kramer, assistant restaurant manager, said.

This is where Cutler’s stands out, as it goes beyond fine dining, appealing to all demographics and hosting a welcoming and intimate experience. 

“We are kind of an elevated take on Appalachian cuisine,” food and beverage manager, Trenton Grandy, said. “We don’t want the bad connotation of fine dining. We feel like that can be kind of intimidating to some people.” 

Grandy also emphasized fine dining doesn’t necessarily mean fancy attire or a reservation.

“We often get asked if we have a dress code and we’re like, ‘No, you can come in wearing whatever you would like to wear,'” he said. “We’re trying to stay away from being too pretentious because we know that can tend to alienate people.”

Cutler’s serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and has bar space for drinks. Its prices range from a la carte options for under $10 to its most expensive menu item, the 34 oz tomahawk ribeye, which costs $93. 

Cutler’s is constantly creating new avenues to attract different audiences, break down barriers and reconstruct what fine dining is. It often incorporates specials to make dining more accessible to the general population of college students. 

“Over the past couple months (we’ve tried) to invest more in our happy hour daily specials … where we can kind of compromise on price because we know that’s where that disconnect may lie,” Grandy said. 

However, some students believe compromising on price may not be enough. 

“Being a college student on a budget, I’m not going out for fine dining food every week” Kalie Gayer, a junior studying nursing, wrote in an email. 

Gayer doesn’t often experience fine dining when at college because of pricing. 

“Price is the driving factor for why I don’t go out for fine dining very often,” Gayer wrote in an email.  

Gayer said the few times she does experience higher-end cuisine, it is special. 

“To me, fine dining is a special experience and I like not going often because it makes me appreciate the times I do go,” Gayer wrote in an email. 

Another place for a memorable dining experience is Little Fish Brewing, located at 8675 Armitage Road. Little Fish Brewing is a family-friendly establishment serving high-end food and curated beer. 

“We’re a brewery and restaurant whose primary goal is to thoughtfully and intentionally craft fine food and beers,” Jen Sartwell, executive chef and general manager of Little Fish Brewing said. 

Sartwell said Little Fish Brewing utilizes Athens’s agricultural surroundings to source fresh ingredients. 

“We’re pretty proud to work with some really great farmers here that provide us with a lot of good food,” she said.

Little Fish Brewing also offers a wide and expansive menu to appeal to all demographics. Sharable dishes can cost as little as $5, and pizzas and charcuterie boards can cost upward of $36. 

“We have a casual menu which is our burgers and our Detroit-style pizzas and salads … and then we always do a separate chef’s menu,” Sartwell said. 

The separate chef’s menu provides more seasonal and intricately planned dishes, allowing the chefs to express their talents.

Little Fish Brewing and Cutler's are helping to expand and push Athens' food culture. Despite there being only a few places to experience fine dining, Cutler’s special prices and Little Fish Brewing’s casual menu give students and locals access to the fine-dining scene.

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