Diners are the biggest beneficiaries of the relocated Citizen.
When chef Greg Johnson opened his subterranean restaurant on East Ninth Street four years ago, the food cognoscenti flocked to it for breakfast and lunch that was made with the freshest of ingredients, many of them culled from local farmers markets on Saturdays when Citizen was closed. Lines stretched out the door.
But even fans of Johnson’s kitchen skills found it hard to rave about the claustrophobic, low-ceilinged space. Now it can fade to little more than a dim memory after your first visit to the airy and light-filled Main Street location, with a rack of vintage comic books and colorful art helping the cause.
Johnson has doubled the restaurant’s seating, added a bar — wine is $5 a glass or $18 a bottle, and beer runs from $1 for a Black Label to $6 for most local suds — and shifted away from serving on paper products. The two counters lining the windows that front Main Street constitute a major new asset if you like a view or the entertainment of street theater. And I spy Johnson’s whimsical sense of humor when I come across chairs and a table topped with a chessboard in the restroom, as if inviting players to linger in the loo.
But the real news is dinner service. You read that right: Citizen welcomes diners from Thursday to Saturday.
Making for a stellar beginning, thin-fried catfish ($6) swabbed with remoulade hits multiple pleasure points, as do pupusas ($4) loaded with black beans and cheese, topped with radish and pickled turnip for a pop of piquancy and a sassy tomatillo salsa riding shotgun for dipping. Fat sauteed grit cakes ($6) provide the blank canvas for rich and spicy brown creole gravy and lashings of crispy pancetta.
More bounty from the sea arrives with a barbecued shrimp po’ boy ($10) worthy of a round of applause for its spicy cabbage and sun-dried tomato salad topping, a veritable party in your mouth. Lunch regulars will recognize the pulled pork torta that deftly marries a jolt of cabbage relish with long-cooked pig and accompanied by spicy Spanish potatoes and appealingly dressed greens rounding out the real estate on the plate.
Riding the vegetarian wave throughout the menu, Citizen shines with the Puerto Rican dish, mofongo ($15). Fried plantains are mashed with garlic and surrounded by a citrus mojo with hints of cumin, replete with tomatoes, half an avocado and black beans — a symphony of sunny flavors that even carnivores will enjoy.
Ditto the dinner salad ($12), available with your choice of seared goat cheese or falafel. The latter comes highly recommended by our server who never even heard of the traditional deep-fried Middle Eastern balls of ground chickpeas before working at Citizen. And while it’s delicious, it’s the salad itself that’s the singular pleasure, a sweet-salty combination of mixed lettuces with strawberries and cashews to provide the grace notes.
Thursdays are burger nights at Citizen, featuring Wolf Creek Farm grass-fed beef as their centerpiece — that is, unless you prefer the house-made veggie burger.
Burgers start at $9 and can be upgraded with four kinds of cheese — including pimento — plus bacon or a fried egg ($1.50), or mushrooms, mango chutney or avocado ($1), appealingly sandwiched between a bun from La Sabrosita Bakery in Midlothian.
For condiments, the menu declares: “Use your freedom of choice. Any or all. Choose wisely,” and offers ketchup, mustard, aioli, red onion, caramelized onion, chowchow and jalapeño. Furrowing our brows, we do and are rewarded with a burger topped with chowchow, cheddar and bacon, as well as another with caramelized onion, provolone and aioli. Both score high marks for sturdy buns, juicy meat and the quality of toppings. Given the heft of the burger, it’s tough to do justice to the accompanying potatoes, but the dressed greens make for a fine complement.
Richmond’s voracious dining public is spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a place to roost at dinnertime. Citizen, with its Wolverine comic books, servers who don’t act like helicopters buzzing around your table, and frugal pricing, makes for a decidedly wise choice. S
Mondays-Wednesdays 7 a.m.-3 p.m.; Thursdays-Fridays 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturdays 4:30-10 p.m.
1203 E. Main St.