After keeping a low profile since he left his longtime chef position at Cowboy Ciao in 2009 — with the exception of his solo appearance at last spring’s Devoured Culinary Classic — this weekend Bernie Kantak returns to Old Town Scottsdale with the launch of his very own restaurant, Citizen Public House.
Set to soft-open on Saturday (doors officially open Sunday), the upscale “new-fashioned” gastropub is located in a completely renovated building that previouly housed the nightclub Next, and was the original location of Trader Vic’s. It’s decked out with leather booths, mahogany accents, a stainless steel-topped bar, and vintage family photos for a nostalgic vibe. There’s also a private upstairs dining room, a semi-private, 12-seat alcove, and a patio.
Kantak met his partners, Andrew Fritz and Rich Moe, during his days at Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz, and here, they’ll be handing the front of the house and an ambitious beverage program that showcases craft beers, inventive cocktails, and wine.
Meanwhile, Kantak has created an enticing menu of contemporary American pub grub with a lot of unique twists. Here, the popcorn is heirloom, popped in Tenderbelly bacon fat, while the mac ‘n cheese goes for the jugular with gorgonzola and Emmental cheeses. The burger is made with decadent wagyu beef, and there’s a lamb burger, too. Like the grilled Halloumi cheese sandwich, it’s served on a Serbian lepijna roll (a salute to Kantak’s Eastern European roots).
Starters include the Mirliton Chopped Salad (chayote, snow pea greens, grape tomatoes, heirloom popcorn, grilled halloumi cheese, cucumber-onion salad, and parsley-garlic dressing), which just might outdo the much-imitated Stetson Chopped that Kantak created for Cowboy Ciao. There’s also crispy squid with lemon-anise tartar sauce and pickled fennel, and pork belly pastrami with rye spaetzle and brussels sprout sauerkraut.
Among the half-dozen entrees, look for fair trade coffee-charred shortribs with dried cherry barbecue sauce, porcini-dusted filet mignon, and pan-seared scallops with lardons, roasted corn grits, wilted snow pea greens, and Red Rock Cola gastrique.
Desserts by pastry chef Tracy Dempsey (also an alum of Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz) sound homey, but a little naughty, too: you can have your milk spiked to go with an order of cookies, or slurp up chocolate toffee bread pudding with soy sauce caramel and chocolate Maker’s Mark ice cream. There’s also “Irish coffee three ways.”
Old-school cocktails like the Sazerac and Pisco Sour are listed alongside new creations like the Citi-Zen, with pear vodka, ginger liqueur, housemade sweet & sour, rock candy, and a lemon twist. There’s a long menu of spirits, digestifs, apertifs, and cordials, plus more than 70 different wines from around the world. Among six draught beers, two are from local fave Four Peaks, while bottle brews sound much geekier than what you’ll generally find in Old Town — there’s Stone Smoked Porter, Green Flash Summer Saison, Dogfish Head Midas Touch, and more.
For now, Citizen Public House will be open for dinner only, but lunch service is planned for the near future. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and dinner service runs from 5 to 11 p.m. daily at 7111 E 5th Ave. in Scottsdale. Call 480-398-4208 for details.