What does it mean to be a good citizen?
That question drove industry veteran Jeremy Walton as he planned the launch of The Citizen at Alys Beach in 2021. Walton wanted to explore how a restaurant can not only be a good citizen in the scope of industry culture, but also in the community.
For their staff, that means showing up. “When you get a new home, we celebrate. When somebody passes, we mourn with you. If you have a flat tire, we’re here to help. It’s hard in this industry. Letting [our staff] know they’re important, making them feel appreciated, spills over to our guests, creating a feeling of welcoming throughout the restaurant. We care for our employees and it shows in how they treat our guests. It’s a full circle,” says Angela Walton.
Nestled amid Alys Beach’s whitewashed exteriors, The Citizen shines with its marine blue and mid-century modern brass interior.
There is a quiet, coastal elegance that exudes from each aspect of The Citizen from their woodfire hearth to the 18-seat marble-inlaid bar, to the 12-seat raw bar (my favorite), to the scattered tables of the dining room.
They do not take reservations unless you have eight or more in your party, adhering to the island lifestyle of the area. But, it is worth the wait.
Drawing inspiration from coastal cities around the world, the menu stays stocked with seasonal ingredients from local and regional purveyors. Angela’s favorite, the Calabrian Shrimp, is crafted with local Gulf shrimp tossed with spicy chiles and crispy shallots. And Jeremy’s current love, the Pork Schnitzel is made with Heirloom Duroc pork from Comfrey Farms, known for its tender texture and robust flavor. Each ingredient, from the farm-raised oysters, tended by hand for 6-8 months, to the bursting with flavor preserved tomato adorning the ample Wedge Salad, is thoughtfully curated and plated for an elevated dining experience.
Even more impressive is their approach to inclusivity. The zero-proof menu for those who choose not to drink alcohol is not treated like an afterthought. And with two vegans in the family, Jeremy and Angela wanted to be sure vegetables were not just a side dish. With complex selections like Hearth-grilled Cauliflower Shwarma tossed in green harissa, served with crispy chickpeas, anybody following a meatless lifestyle will be satisfied, and know the chef has thought deeply about how to create a menu that feels inclusive for all diets.
Being a good citizen to the community plays a large role in how the Waltons operate. Angela, a former teacher, takes that part to heart. As part of a recent Destin Charity Wine Auction, The Citizen hosted a dinner and chose Westonwood Ranch as their designated beneficiary.
Westonwood offers a curriculum to young adults with developmental differences that encourage independence, self-confidence, and pre-vocational skills to help them transition from high school to adulthood. “It’s so important because when kids are out of school, turning 20, they can get lost,” says Angela. On the night of the dinner, students opened doors, helped with tables, and had the opportunity to work in a beautiful restaurant.
From the moment you enter the front door and are personally greeted by the host, or the manager, or Angela who sees the host as, “…the place where you give your first and last impression,” you feel welcome.
No matter if you opt for lunch, dinner, or Sunday brunch, you’re in for a spectacular dining experience.
The atmosphere buzzes with activity—intricate libations are being mixed up at the bar, impossibly tall seafood towers are being assembled at the raw bar, and knowledgeable servers, like David, guide their guests through the dining experience with grace and humor. And if you’re looking for an unusual bottle of wine to complement your meal, they have it.
Soon The Citizen’s family will grow. Fonville Press, opening just across the green, will offer more of a 60s West Coast vibe with splashy greens and pinks. There will be grab-n-go dinners, frozen drinks to quench that post-beach thirst, a rotisserie pumping out carryout food, and of course, coffee.
The Citizen is a haven for adventure-seeking palates. Whether you come for lunch for the Charred Avocado salad layered with asparagus, citrus supremes, golden beets, and chewy pistachios, or opt for a dinner of Hearth Roasted Gulf Fish served atop braised fennel and leeks with preserved lemon salad, or you go all-in on brunch with the decadent Bananas Foster French Toast, you’re in for a unique meal.
And if you want to try making Chef Coleman Jernigan’s Charred Avocado Salad at home, he shared his recipe below.
• 4oz white balsamic vinegar
• 4oz extra virgin olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Salad and Toppings:
• 6 small roasted and peeled golden beets
• 1 head of asparagus blanched, shocked, and sliced into 1” segments
• 6 oranges segmented, pith and skin removed
• 1lb by weight mixed greens
• 6oz toasted pistachios
• 2oz crispy fried shallots (sourced from a local Asian market are fine)
• 8 avocados cut in half (1/2 half avocado per person)
• 1 small jar of espelette (you can find it on Amazon, or you can substitute spicy paprika)
Step 1: Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk and set aside. Note this dressing
will separate as it sits… just whisk again before dressing your salad.
Step 2: Roast your beets at 350 degrees for approximately 45-60 min, or until tender. Cool, peel, and
dice the beets. Set aside.
Step 3: Trim the bottom 1” off of your asparagus and discard… this part is fibrous and inedible. Blanch
your asparagus in salted simmering water for 3 min. To stop the cooking process and preserved
the texture and color of the asparagus, we always recommend shocking it in ice water for an
amount of time equal to the time it was in the pot of water. In this case 3 min. NOTE: Look for
larger thicker asparagus, as pencil asparagus will not hold up very well.
Step 4: Using a paring knife, remove the skin of your oranges so that the flesh or the orange is
exposed. Taking your time, begin removing the orange segments by slicing down one side of
the segment against the membrane and repeating on the opposite side of the segment. You
should end up with segments that are free of both skin and pith.
Step 5: Char your avocados. This is exactly what it sounds like… use your favorite wood or charcoal to
light your outdoor grill. Leaving the avocado in their skins while grilling will prevent the avocado
from burning. Over medium-high heat grill, put your avocado half cut side down until you have
achieved the desired amount of color/char. NOTE: spraying the avocado with a nonstick spray or
olive oil will help prevent sticking. Remove from skins with a spoon, fill the hole with olive oil and
dust the top of the avocado in salt and espelette.
Step 6: To assemble the salad simply toss your greens with the prepared dressing. Top with orange
segments, cut asparagus, cut beets, crispy shallots, and pistachios. When plating, place one
avocado half on top of each prepared salad and serve.
Chef’s Notes: This recipe should feed 8 small salads or 4 large entrée-sized salads. This recipe is also GF,
and VEGAN as is without modification. Not to mention delicious and healthy.