It is finally time to reveal one of my favorite lunch spots in Richmond. I have been trying for months to rein in my urge to dine in restaurants every day. Downtown Richmond has so many great options for lunch and I work in a great location that is within walking distance of many of them. However it is healthier for my wallet and my waistline to brown bag it more often than not. While I have been doing better with bringing my lunch to work, I make an almost-weekly exception just for Citizen.
Tucked into a building on 9th Street, Citizen is a gem that I discovered last year through a tip off in a Victory Farms CSA member newsletter during its opening week.
You may never see it there if it weren’t for a black sandwich board on 9th street, adorned with a constantly changing drawing and clever phrase to draw you in. During the height of the Lincoln Fever that was the Richmond filming of Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, the board displayed a familiar character to greet us daily.
Once you get past Lincoln, or a snowman, or a jack-o-lantern, or whoever it is on the specials board today, you get to Lauren and Greg. And they are awesome. Their constant banter and personal service make you feel at home, if your childhood home included an excellent menu executed by a creative and talented chef.
Lauren always greets us by name and no matter how crazy it is in there, she remains calm under pressure. She gracefully handles the incoming calls and line of walk-in customers simultaneously and consistently delivers service with a smile. If you aren’t sure what to order, she is excellent at giving suggestions and answering questions about the menu.
Greg rules the roost and cooks almost all of the sandwiches and sides to order. From what I can tell by watching the completely exposed kitchen, he is insistent on perfect execution of his dishes, yet he breaks his focus on the food just often enough to engage with customers. It must be difficult to cook every order while on display for eight and a half hours each day, but he pulls it off. It appears to me that he has the right balance of discipline and hospitality to make his open kitchen work for him. I have been known to boldly and firmly tell chattering dinner guests to “get out of my kitchen!” while entertaining, so I have a lot of respect for this guy.
So should we talk about the food?
Citizen calls their sandwiches “tortas” and they come out hot and pressed from being grilled on the flat top under an iron. One of the best I have ever had is one with jerk collards, pimento cheese and pickled shallots. My current favorite is the roasted butternut squash, curry cashew butter and celery root horseradish slaw. That is jerk collards on the side in the photo, and I highly recommend them.
The tortas come with a choice of side and there is always something pickled on the plate to finish it off. On this day it was a pickled carrot. So delicious.
Citizen has this new quiche type dish that was called a “savory rice pudding” on the day that we ordered it, but I think they’re calling it a quiche on the menu on their facebook page now. Stuffed with vegetables and cheese and topped with an ancho harissa sauce, this was a tasty dish, whatever it was.
I love that Citizen uses local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible and their constantly evolving menu is really exciting to watch. I have gotten so many ideas for my home cooking from the daring flavor combinations and creative uses of seasonal produce from Citizen’s kitchen. The prices are so fair that I don’t even feel guilty for cheating on my brown bag plan on a regular basis, and I have to hand it to them for making good food accessible and affordable.
I feel lucky to have had them move in near my office last summer, and I am looking forward to what the future holds for Citizen. I hope they are a fixture on 9th street for years to come. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, make the trip and make sure you turn in at the clever sandwich board. But don’t tell Greg and Lauren that Lauren sent you. . . because that would just be confusing.
Citizen is located at 909 East Main Street and they are open from 7:00 AM to 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Check out their extremely informative facebook page here: Citizen RVA.