Doing It for the People
The Many Charms of Citizen
Citizen is a minor miracle located on the east flank of lower Queen Anne. The tiny new cafe and wine purveyor and creperie may be found a block behind the mammoth new QFC on Mercer. There's not much else around: Laredos, a midrange Mexican place, is marooned nearby (where mod-and-pale Veil failed to thrive), a Domino's and teriyaki are on the corner. It's a pocket of the city that's hard by Aurora, close to Seattle Center, but it feels like nowhere. An acronym has been forcibly applied to this area of late; it isn't sticking.
Next door to Citizen is a collision center, Werner's Crash Shop. One side of Werner's reader board currently informs you that donations for Northwest Harvest may be dropped off there; the other has a message welcoming Citizen, reading in conclusion, "MMMMM!" While the latter may arise from a vested interest—Werner's Crash Shop is Citizen's landlord—it is still neighborly in the nicest way, much like Citizen itself.
People sit at Citizen's sidewalk picnic tables even when it's not warm enough to sit out there. (Maybe the mere fact that now there is something, where before there was nothing, is magnetic.) The soviet-style star-with-all-caps CITIZEN logo is stenciled on the exterior, while the interior is a do-it-yourself triumph. Werner's was using it for offices and storage, but after looking at the building for the 15 years she's lived in the area, Suzana Olmos had another idea. Inside, it's taller than it is wide; any less determined imagination would've faltered, but Olmos shoehorned in a miniature kitchen, counter-style window seating, the world's most compact wine shop, and the world's pleasantest loft. The shelves for the wine are cranberry boxes requisitioned from the side of a country road; she also took apart pieces of her own furniture to make parts of Citizen. Upstairs, just a few tables and some repurposed lecture-hall seating roost under weathered wooden beams and planks of ceiling and exposed brick. The reclamation is genuine, rough around all the right edges. It's not an unfamiliar ethos; it's one that's currently often appropriated by those with actual budgets. The copies never quite work, though, because they don't have heart.
Citizen's ethos of crepe making is not what you'd call restrained. The French tradition—just a few fillings, virtue in simplicity—has been abandoned under the leadership of co-owner Justin Taft (of Georgetown's small but hugely popular Hangar Cafe). The namesake crepe ($8.95) has avocado and roasted asparagus and spinach and caramelized onions and goat cheese and bacon; the October special ($8.95) was andouille sausage, mozzarella, tomato, spinach, caramelized onions, and crème fraîche. It's crepes à la excess: a crepe as something to stuff an entire salad into, or as a kind of flattened neo-burrito. Even the selections with only three ingredients are drizzled with maple syrup or balsamic dressing. People love all this, raving in The Stranger's online reader-reviews and elsewhere, but purists should know that the Citizens don't get uptight if you want to build your own, less complicated version. I recommend ham, Swiss, and Citizen's fine, light mushroom cream sauce (they charged $7.95), with the crepe ordered on the browner side. (The kitchen's standard seems to be quite pale, which can be slightly gummy.) The requisite sweet crepes ($7.25 each) are made with Nutella, or caramelized apples and melted Brie (high viscosity), or homemade lemon curd.
There are also sandwiches: a number of cold ones and grilled ones, a couple pork specialties, and Vietnamese-banh-mi-style ($5.95–$7). A random sampling did not turn up anything remarkable, but all were entirely serviceable, especially at the price (they come with kettle-type potato chips). However, soup at Citizen on a chilly day falls into the category of humanitarian aid (at $3.50 a cup, $6.50 a bowl). Recently, cream of broccoli was deliciously smoky-tasting, not pureed too fine, and hinted that it might have cheese stirred in; chicken noodle was peppery and bright, the white wine in the stock still asserting itself in a good way.
Speaking of humanitarian aid and wine, Citizen's doing it for the people. A nothing-fancy but careful selection of bargains are all $5 a glass, and bottles are absurdly low-priced and all available to go. How absurdly low-priced? A bottle of Entre-Deux-Mers: $9.95. A Washington merlot called, fittingly, Revelry: $12. Top of the line: a Sangiovese for $18.95. For brunch, big, beautiful glowing pints of mimosa, made with prosecco and your choice of orange or grapefruit juice (get half and half), are $5.75. The markup on wine is about the same as at the QFC: It's a revolution!
If you've got about $20 and a similarly endowed friend or two, a very satisfying time is waiting for you at Citizen. A note about waiting, however: Going at an off-hour will give you a much better chance at a table, as people are already onto Citizen's charms. Also note that these charms do not include speed—recall that the kitchen is very small—and that while service isn't impeccable, it's impeccably friendly. One server who'd forgotten to bring a glass of wine (it did not appear on the bill) ran out onto the sidewalk afterward to apologize. Nobody minded.