One of the things I love about traveling to eat breakfast across America is when things come out of left field…just like Ohio’s choice for its FAVORITE breakfast spot – Casa Nueva.
Yes, that’s correct…a Mexican restaurant in Southeastern Ohio was voted Ohio’s favorite breakfast spot. I know, I thought the same thing when I saw they won the voting poll…”WTH?!”
But, man, those Ohioans know WTH they’re talking about when it comes to breakfast.
Walking into Casa Nueva felt like walking into a restaurant right smack in the middle of Berkeley. Same cool, bohemian vibe with a little Midwest thrown in.
As I walked into Casa, I could smell freshly cut veggies and herbs filling a space that looked much more like a nightclub than a restaurant. And, no wonder…I entered through Casa’s Cantina which I’m sure many Bobcats frequent after a long school week.
Casa Nueva sits in the heart of Athens, Ohio, which, in my opinion, should just be called the Bobcat Territory since Ohio University occupies most of the town.
Formerly known as Casa Que Pasa, Casa Nueva opened for business as a worker-owned cooperative in 1985, when Casa Que Pasa’s owner found himself heavily in debt and took off, leaving eight of the restaurant’s employees without jobs.
The eight owner-workers re-opened the restaurant as Casa Nueva, and its been a mainstay of Athens’ restaurant scene for nearly 30 years.
I always get a little nervous when I see “healthy” selections on a breakfast menu. I mean, I think “breakfast” I think bacon, biscuits and gravy, eggs smothered in cheese and pancakes. Obviously, my view on breakfast has significantly changed since my little breakfast adventure began, so I was ready for anything Casa Nueva had to offer me.
I sat down with Michelle Wasserman, one of the worker-owners and an incredibly gracious, superbly cool woman, who described Casa Nueva’s food as Southeastern-Ohio-Mexican-style cuisine…my translation: food with a boatload of flavor.
Michelle introduced a couple of different dishes, but the one she chose for me was their Huevos Rancheros topped with their seasonal veggies of the day. For a brief moment, well, maybe for several moments I was a little concerned. “Seasonal veggies of the day”…what would that mean? What in the world would they do to a classic Huevos Rancheros?
It didn’t matter. Casa Nueva prides itself on a farm-to-table approach to food…using only local produce and seasonal selections. In fact, the freshness and flavor in this dish won me over. It didn’t matter that it had Swiss chard and roasted bell peppers…they each gave the dish an unexpected, pleasant twist. The veggies were sautéed and in that process whatever bitterness the Swiss chard might have had relaxed a bit. As I took a bite, the flavor of the veggies mixed with the pepper jack cheese from the Laurel Valley Creamery, and the combination worked beautifully.
The dish comes with a house-made flour tortilla, topped with their house-made salsa.They make 13 different kinds of salsa and Michelle’s choice for me was perfect, which was of the black bean variety. There was a bit of a kick from the cayenne pepper, but the pepper jack cheese mellowed it out as it melted in my mouth. It is a dish I highly recommend and would love to eat again with whatever veggies are in season…maybe beets and sweet potatoes next time?
Hours for breakfast at Casa Nueva are 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. And, the restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. so if you plan on hanging around there’s plenty of time to do so. They are located at 4 West State Street in Athens, Ohio. For more information, call 740-592-2016 or visit their Web site www.casanueva.com.
¡Hasta la vista!