As a food-obsessed New Yorker, it is a little difficult for me to admit that I take my city for granted all too often. Regardless of the time of day or neighborhood, when hunger strikes, I know I can wander just a few blocks in any direction and find myself something delicious to eat. It could be a $4.50 bahn mí from the video shop on Lafayette street in Chinatown at 2 pm on a Tuesday; a scalding-hot slice of pizza with the most delicious tender crunchy crust from Bleecker Street Pizza on my way home from work; a 10 pm pit stop at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge for the world’s most heavenly chicken biscuit at Pies-n-Thighs; or an enormous bowl of anise-scented lagman noodles and mutton galore at Cafe Kashkar out on Brighton Beach on a Saturday afternoon; I am spoiled by the cheek-to-jowl bodega-to-taco-stand nature of a city of several million smashed onto an island—you just don’t have to look that hard to find a decent meal.
So when I started a new job that has me traveling to exotic locations like Tulsa, Oklahoma; Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and Richmond, Virginia four days out of the week, I realized the world is full of far more Subways than just the New York City metro—and far fewer Jewish delis, steamy dumpling shops, and tasty pizza-by-the-slice walk-up windows than I remembered. It was a tough pill to swallow…or maybe that was just the dry turkey club we had on our drive from DC to Richmond last week.
Now, there are other food Meccas in this fine country of ours—I dream of contracting a tapeworm while I’m in South America this summer so that I can rehabilitate myself in New Orleans, a food heaven where I’m sure I could easily put on 30 pounds in a matter of weeks without trying—but I wasn’t expecting much from the cute college town of Richmond, Virginia, particularly after a ‘highly recommended’ restaurant left me with an uneasy stomach ache after an uninspired black bean and sweet potato burger our first night in town. Luckily the internet is a wonderful thing, and a few sneaky keystrokes lead me to our next day’s lunch haven: Citizen.
Tucked in the basement of a high-rise on Main Street, Citizen is a wee sandwich shop with a serious local following—when we rolled in around 2 pm there were still folks waiting in line almost to the door—and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want to tuck into a nine-inch jerk collards and pimento pressed sandwich with pickled shallots, or a roasted beet salad with smoked feta, gingerbread croutons and sour cherry vinaigrette? The food is hearty and creative without being stuffy or pretentious, and is prepared using locally sourced ingredients in an open-concept kitchen by a team of friendly chefs. They do breakfast till 11 and lunch till 3. No fuss, no rush.
Though there are fewer than 10 items on the lunch menu, it took a serious consultation with the very helpful counter staff before I could settle on the Caramelized Onion Bread Pudding topped with smoked ham, Mornay sauce and fresh peas; only with the caveat that I would get a second sandwich to take with me back to DC for the train ride home that night. In fact, my co-worker and I ended up leaving with four sandwiches and four side dishes (which come along with the less-than-$8 sandwiches). The bread pudding was rich and savory, with a creamy sweetness from the sauce and peas, and a great salty base from the ham. The Roast Butternut Squash Torta with curry cashew butter and celery root slaw was even better—creamy, crunchy, spicy and earthy, it came as a pressed sandwich that held up to the four hour drive back to DC, and had me dreaming up ways to recreate it on the long train ride to New York. Their potato frittata was a winner, as were the sides of jerk collards, the cool lentil salad with feta, and the house-made raspberry bars. In fact, when my account manager mentioned another project that would take me through Richmond at the end of the month, I found myself thinking, oh good, now I can try that Brussels Sprout Hash with goat cheese and sun-dried tomato sandwich at Citizen. Yup, it was that good.
So next time you find yourself visiting your cousin at VCU, or driving from the blue ridge mountains to High Point, New Jersey, take a stop in Richmond, Virginia, and snag a bite at Citizen. You’ll be glad you did.
909 East Main Street, Lower Level
Richmond, VA 23219
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