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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tune In: Citizen's Band Brings Chic Brunch to All-American Diner

Posted By on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 9:00 AM

French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries
  • French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries

It's possible to live blocks away from Citizen's Band and never know it exists, an anomaly in a dining-obsessed city. The unassuming storefront is easy to overlook on its corner of 8th and Folsom, smushed up against the much flashier Pinkie's Bakery, with which Citizen's Band shares its indoor space. Maybe that's why the restaurant has maintained its low-key atmosphere, despite having been operating for about two years; even at noon on Sunday, the place is lively but not crowded or chaotic. The majority of bar seats, and maybe even a table or two, are up for grabs.


French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries
  • French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries

It's fun to sit at the bar here, partly because the restaurant is decorated and organized like a diner. Contemporary black barstools allow you to swivel, and with supportive backs, they're surprisingly comfortable. Besides that, you can see the kitchen operating out of the corner of your eye. It's a small operation with no pretenses, even offering a glimpse into the refrigerator, where bold labels like "green beans" and "soft drinks" don't seem to represent the contents of the fridge at all. That sense of humor is part of the Citizen's Band fun, marrying the retro and kitsch with the trendy.  

French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries
  • French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries
The staff is yet another reason to sit at the bar. They are young and cool, flashing friendly smiles instead of the hipster scowls seen so often at stylish restaurants. They'll chat with you without hovering over you, and they'll wave enthusiastically when you leave. It's a small gesture, but one that too often goes ignored.

Despite not taking itself too seriously, Citizen's Band serves an impressive brunch. The menu is limited to a handful of familiar American dishes boasting quality ingredients, such as a the burger with tomato marmalade, homemade pickles and a challah bun from Pinkie's ($10). You can also order an Eggs Benedict made with pork belly in place of Canadian bacon.

French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries
  • French toast with ricotta, lemon curd and strawberries

The French Toast ($8) features a custardy baguette filled with thick sweetened ricotta cheese on top of a smear of lemon curd. A spoonful of crunchy streusel adds texture, while fresh cut strawberries add color to the plate. The maple syrup is served on the side, warm in a small jar. This is the perfect French toast for those who can't stomach sickly sweet dishes during brunch hours. The balance of flavors is spot-on, with the lemon curd and ricotta providing respite from the syrup. The baguette is drier on the inside than your typical French toast, so don't expect a pudding-soft interior.

Shrimp and grits, topped with a fried egg and toast
  • Shrimp and grits, topped with a fried egg and toast

Staffers recommend the Shrimp and Grits ($12), adding that it's the richest dish (on a menu with pork belly, no less). They're right; the creamy, cheesy grits take center stage here, as a bed for a handful of tiny shrimp and a fried egg. It's all served among a savory -- but not spicy - broth, which offers nice flavor but an unusually thin texture for such a dish. This is one shrimp and grits that doesn't start with a roux, and you may find yourself reaching for your spoon to slurp up the tasso-laced goodness.

Corned beef hash with house-made mustard and fried eggs
  • Corned beef hash with house-made mustard and fried eggs

The Corned Beef Hash ($13) could make believers out of corned beef skeptics. The salt-cured beef takes on a perfect, shred-able texture in this dish, unlike some other, tougher cuts out there. The beef is served among two fried eggs and soft diced potatoes cooked with green garlic, onions, and a touch of herbs, creating an unusually delicate flavor combination. Too often brunch hash browns rely on heavy spices or hot oil to make them robust, but these feel light and seasonal. Two piles of grainy, house-made mustard complete the dish -- a lovely complement to the richness of the beef.

A wine list scribbled on the chalkboard behind the bar advertises glasses from California to Italy, all priced between $7 and $12 (and also available by the bottle). They offer mimosas during brunch -- and coffee, of course -- in addition to a small but well-rounded selection of microbrews.  

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In a stretch of SOMA where good food and booze are gaining some recognition (think Terroir, City Beer Store and Radius) Citizen's Band is a welcome addition. It's fun and friendly, with creative twists on old-fashioned comfort food favorites. On our way out, a server urged us to come back and try the lunch. Whether the clever food or the friendly vibe is to thank, there's no doubt we will.  

Olivia Ware works for Williams-Sonoma, where she contributes to the company blog The Blender.

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Olivia Ware

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