The Citizen: Citizen fare
By Liesel Schmidt
Oct. 15, 2021
ALYS BEACH – While opening a restaurant in the midst of a pandemic may seem risky, the reward seemed worth the gamble for Jeremy Walton, whose 25 years in the hospitality industry gave him confidence that a new venture could indeed reach monumental success despite the long shadow cast by current events.
“The concept of the restaurant is inspired by coastal cuisine from around the world, mixed with local and regional ingredients.” – Jeremy Walton, owner
Open since January of 2021, The Citizen has become a newly hewn gem in the crown of Alys Beach, named for the driving concept behind it. “A love for the community and commitment to defining what it means to be a ‘good citizen,’” said Walton, who earned his chops working with Auberge Resorts, Montage International, and Sea Island before joining the Alys Beach team in 2014. He has also served as a consulting partner for James Beard Award-winning Chef Chris Hastings, since 2005.
“I’ve had a close relationship with Alys Beach for many years, and The Citizen provided me with the perfect way to continue the growth of this community,” he explained. “The concept of the restaurant is inspired by coastal cuisine from around the world, mixed with local and regional ingredients.”
Designed by local architecture and design firm Khoury-Vogt Architects – the town architects for Alys Beach – the restaurant naturally ascribes to Alys Beach’s cleanly minimalist aesthetic. The interior is influenced by Scandinavian modern design, with a focus on simple and refined elements: coffered ceilings, marble and gold accents, and a vibrant splash of peacock blue that stands in stark relief from the overall white theme of the space.
Diners at The Citizen are given a variety of seating options, from the 18-seat bar and a 12-seat raw bar to the 120-seat dining room and outdoor patio area. Mirroring the fresh and vibrant vibe of the restaurant itself, the flavors of The Citizen are showcased in a variety of menu items that include a selection of fresh-caught seafood as well dishes that fall under the heading of “land” and “garden.”
Having created what Walton essentially terms more of a tavern, the dishes reflect the casual atmosphere of such an enterprise, with entrees, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers that – while expertly prepared and conceived with an expertise for flavor pairings – seem to straddle the line between elevated cuisine and comfort food. As a nod to coastal Southern fare, many of the dishes are cooked over a wood fired hearth. Naturally, the beverage side of the menu shows a careful exploration of mixology that is both creative and unique.
As fantastic as the fare might be, there are, of course, a few dishes that make it to the top of the list.
“Some of our best-sellers are the Gulf shrimp, whipped feta, and our roasted avocado salad,” Walton observed. To look at the descriptions of this trio, it’s little wonder that they would be so popular. The Gulf shrimp is no mere platter of crustaceans; instead, they boast the heat of Calabrian chilies, cut with the tart edge of lemon, topped with crispy garlic, crispy shallots, and herb salad, served with grilled bread. Blended with honey, the smooth creaminess of the whipped feta is given crunch with herbed Valencia almonds and accompanied by grilled naan bread.
Clearly, there are masters at work in the kitchen, and Executive Chef Drew Dzejak is nothing if not a magician in the culinary arena. Having first developed his skills as a professional chef at the age of 15, he then went on to graduate from Johnson & Wales with a degree in Culinary Arts and set out to work at Belmond Charleston Place Hotel, Windsor Court Hotel, and Palmetto Bluff, where serendipity put him in Walton’s path. Chef de Cuisine Coleman Jernigan is equally an asset; and, much like Dzejak, he began his culinary journey at an early age. He hails from New Orleans and has several areas of expertise, including bread baking, pastry arts, fine dining, casual dining, and wholesale production.
From appetizer to dessert, The Citizen is indeed a celebration of the community – and they welcome you to join them.
The Citizen is located at 20 Mark Twain Lane #101, Alys Beach. Open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Bar hours are 3:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations accepted for parties of eight or more. For more information, call 850-909-0702 or visit www.citizenalys.com.