There are lots of perks to opening a restaurant in Norton Commons, not the least of which is a lack of competition. With only a deli-pub, a breakfast spot, a Chinese restaurant and a pizzeria in this new urbanist ‘hood, it’s easy to stand out, to be unique.
Citizen 7, the modern Mexican restaurant that opened Monday, Jan. 25, at 10715 Meeting St., has no peer within the quiet and walkable village or the nearby neighborhoods ringing the southeast side of the Gene Snyder Freeway. Certainly not ones combining the essence of a real taqueria, a casual restaurant and an excellent cocktail cantina.
“You don’t get a lot of that craft cuisine on this end of town, things you see so often in the Highlands,” said general manager Adam Sabin, who last served as bar manager at Commonwealth Tap just one street over. He said Citizen 7’s five partners (some of whom are involved in Commonwealth Tap) originally wanted a taqueria. But after talking to executive chef Allan Rosenberg (yep, same guy who co-owns Fontleroy’s) and head chef Kyle Schwan, “we started seeing how we could pull in all these other Latin flavors to include things like braised oxtail empanadas. We’re strong on tacos, but there’s lots more.”
Unlike the pricey homes surrounding the restaurant, the menu is surprisingly inexpensive. Tacos range between $3.50 and $4.25, appetizers from $3 to $11, and some sharable entrees (such as steak with fried plantains and chimichurri sauce) top out at $18. (So far, the menu is not online.)
“We want this to be a place where people taste lots of things and hang out for three hours if they want,” Sabin said. “We don’t want to price gouge, either. It’s all part of creating a relaxed place to come.”
Outside of El Camino and Wild Rita’s, few bars are as tequila-centric as Citizen 7. It even has agave juice on tap.
“Right over there, Herradura blanco,” said Sabin, pointing to the flat black tap handle. The tequila is chilled just enough to smooth out the neat sipping experience and reduce dilution that occurs with iced cocktails. “We’re the first bar in Kentucky to have that.”
Narrow shelves hanging above the bar are packed with a wide variety of tequila, mezcal, rum, bourbon and wine. Though the tequila list (42 options, all served neat if preferred for $6-$13) is well chosen, most of its current selections are found easily on retail shelves and better bars. Sabin wants to change that over time as Citizen 7’s reputation for the spirit grows and it hosts tequila events such as paired dinners.
He said the staff is well versed in the nuances of agave terroir and the huge differences between a tequila made from fruit grown in Mexico’s Highlands or Lowlands.
“Our house margarita (recipe) is simple: fresh-squeezed lime juice and simple syrup,” Sabin explained. No bottled sour mix, no orange liqueur. “We do give it a little twist of orange to express that aroma and give it a different citrus opening. But nothing orange flavored. We want the uniqueness of the tequila to come through.”
Though built from the ground up this fall, the building’s modern exterior bears little resemblance to the restaurant’s distressed interior. Brick walls have been painted to look faded, and bare-bulb lights look like century-old throwbacks. Floors are concrete and furniture is steel and wood: nothing fancy, highly trendy — and it all works nicely.
Especially the touches from artist Nathan Weaver. From a distance, his “mural” reads, “You’re All Beautiful,” yet as you move closer, you see the letters aren’t made by mere brushstrokes. They’re formed from hundreds of tiny painted figurines.
“Cool, isn’t it?” Sabin said. “He hand painted all of them.”
For now, Citizen 7 is open only for dinner Sunday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday from 4-11 p.m. A weekend brunch is in the works, and lunch is under consideration. Reservations aren’t accepted, and it’s likely the restaurant’s 120 seats will fill up fast in the near term. When spring returns, its 55-seat patio will open.
“When the patio opens, we’ll open all the doors to the front of the space,” Sabin said. “We’ll put lounge chairs and tables outside, too. It’ll be a lot of fun.”