Texas is a state of meat. The Texas Monthly has a barbecue editor, not a tofu editor, and lists the state’s top 50 barbecue joints, not vegan joints (and, no, Austin’s all-vegan BBQ Revolution trailer did not make the list). Even in the blue island of Austin, people will wither hours in the heat for a taste of Franklin, something you just don’t see for Mother’s. The bride and I will eat damn near anything (a few weeks ago we partook of candied carpenter ants the size of raisons at the spectacular Xochi in Houston), but even we can appreciate a meatless meal now and then (a trip to France and the original Kreuz’s in Lockhart shook us from our early-90s vegetarian ways). Thankfully, if you are vegetarian, vegan, or paleo or are simply looking for a break from animal protein, there are places for you in Austin, including, now, in our neighborhood, Citizen Eatery at 5011 Burnet.
In the former location for the short-lived 416 Bar & Grille, Citizen Eatery is 100 percent meat free and paleo and gluten-free friendly. Whereas 416 Bar & Grille was dark and intimate, Citizen is as light and airy as a sunny Scandinavian day. Upon entering streetside, a wallpaper mural titled “The Joy of Plants” greets you before you choose a table to begin your culinary adventure. Citizen originally opened late last fall as fast-casual: order at the front, sit down, and wait for your food. The owners, true-believers Michael Mayer and Aimee Waldon, wisely changed to a still casual but sit-down experience.
Citizen’s menu is to be studied, savored, and shared before ordering, especially if you’re a newbie. Given that we live in a chef’d-up town, this is chef’d up vegetarian and vegan fare, and it is quite good.
The full bar offers local beers, kombucha on tap, organic wines, and specialty drinks house-infused with herbs. My favorite is the Diablo Rita: Gem & Bolt mescal, Cointreau, lime, and habanero shrub ($11; do not drink if your lips are chapped!) while the bride prefers the Lavender Underground: Highborn Texas Gin, house lavender, rosemary, and apple cider shrub ($9; chapped-lip friendly). I’ve also enjoyed the Green Light: Monopolowa Vodka, house-juiced cucumber, and citrus ($9).
Citizen has all-day breakfast with egg and non-egg choices (I do love me some all-day breakfast!). The Nest includes two poached eggs on a bed of crispy fried veggie noodles all resting on wilted kale ($10.5); good, but a little too kaley for me. The California Toast—sure to be a hit with the Millennials—is Citizen’s gorgeous and tasty version of avocado toast: wheat toast (with a gluten-free option), fried egg, avocado, asparagus, and herb oil ($8.5). We haven’t tried them yet, but grain-free parsnip flapjacks ($9) sound intriguing. Dishes with scrambled eggs offer tofu scramble substitutes for vegans. For a vegetarian joint, Citizen is surprising light on the salad options, but we’ve found the Citizen Power Bowl (quinoa, avocado, kale, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, red peppers, tomato, and citrus vinaigrette) to be healthy and delicious ($11.5).
Where Citizen shines is in its veggie burgers. Halfway through every burger the bride has eaten here, she exclaims with utter joy “This is the best veggie burger I’ve ever had.” I have to agree. The Citizen burger ($9) is a house wood-smoked patty made with white beans, chickpeas, mushrooms, citizen grain mix, kale, herbs, and spices dowsed with avocado ranch dressing. The Smoked Green Chili version substitutes chickpeas with New Mexican green chiles ($9; the former desert-dwelling New Mexican in me winces at the all-too-common sin of misspelling chile; then again, this is not a spelling bee). There’s also a Paleo Burger made with sweet potato, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, and toasted pecans served on a grain-free paleo bun dowsed with paleo aioli ($10.5). You can add a side of perfectly-fried and salted golden potato fries to a burger order ($3.5) or instead share a combo basket of potato fries, Texas Tumbleweed (crispy fried veggie noodles), and yuca (pronounced yoo-kah) fries ($8).
Although we haven’t tried them yet (we’ve been too enamored with the burgers…), Citizen offers a half-dozen featured dishes including vegan chorizo nachos ($12), Bolognese ($11.5), shakshuka ($12), a BBQ “Pulled Plant” Sandwich ($11.5), and a curry dish ($10.5).
So if you’re looking for a veggie cleanse after working through those top 50 barbecue joints, are vegan/vegetarian, or are looking for something different, be a good citizen and try out the joy of plants at Citizen.
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
I originally wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor