It’s helpful that my friends keep me informed. I had heard several positive reports about Citizen 33, the new brewpub in Driggs. The pictures online whetted my appetite even more. Watching the most beautiful sunset ever, I drove over the pass a few nights ago to see for myself.

I met up with a favorite pal, and we were satiated by some interesting dishes brought by accommodating staff. Then I drove home very slowly through the dark with snow blowing sideways. I always have trepidation about colliding with some innocent deer or moose on the pass. I hate that part. Experiencing Citizen 33 made my drive worthwhile. Our near future portends more light and less snow.

Citizen 33 opened last May as a new venture for Christian and Lisa Hanley of Forage Bistro & Lounge and Nick Farney, a skilled brewmaster who creates craft beverages from Idaho-grown malt and hops. There are now nine varieties on tap, from pale ale to stout, to quench your thirst.

The focus at Citizen 33 is on beer-friendly American pub food. Opening chef David “Dig” McCallister started the smash burger concept. Each meat portion is weighed and formed into a ball. The ball is dropped on the hot flattop grill and smashed with a spatula. His influences from Kauai peek through a bit in dishes like the chili pepper chicken served on jasmine rice with kimchi and sweet soy. There is a delightful veggie “umami” burger of barley and mushrooms served with goat cheese, miso truffle aioli and optional pork belly for the ultimate irony. Furikake fries are topped with nori, toasted sesame seed, Hawaiian sea salt and sweet soy wasabi aioli.

We relished each bite of a house salad that was clean, crisp and citrus toned with Clawson greens, matchstick apples, candied walnuts and asiago. The hanger steak Nicoise salad looked wonderfully tempting with crispy red-skinned potatoes, green beans, tomato, tapenade and lemon basil vinaigrette. The market fish featured seared rare ahi with all the trimmings on a 460 bun. Root vegetable “tagliatelle” could include a portion of fish or chicken. We enjoyed the ribbons of al dente vegetables in garlic herb cream sauce, which included numerous roasted whole cloves of garlic. I wanted a bathtub full of the rich sauce.

Chef John Perry, aka “Darkhorse Johnny,” recently took the helm in Citizen 33’s kitchen. Perry said he jumped on board to preserve McCallister’s vision.

“I’m really excited moving forward. I love keeping it interesting and as local as possible. I always get excited when I know all the great local produce will be getting here soon.”

Perry’s love for the culinary arts started in his Mom’s bakery when he was 12, growing up in Maine. Panda Marie’s Bakery sold his first creation, a hot seller, Johnny’s Pear Raisin Pie. Helping at the bakery was the spark to become a professional chef. To prepare, he chose to work at The Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine, where his career started.

During four years there, Perry worked every position from lobster shucker to sous chef and expediter. He was taught and influenced by some amazing chefs.

“They encouraged me to go to culinary school. I chose The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, because the curriculum is thorough,” he said.

The famous Brown Palace Hotel in Denver was Perry’s choice for an internship. The huge hotel that houses four restaurants and innumerable banquets was an incredible arena for learning and an unforgettable experience.

At The Lobar in Crested Butte, a trendy sushi bar, the menu encompasses traditional sushi, fun small plates and appetizers and creative modern specials. Perry was sous chef, led sushi rolling and was eventually the lead sashimi chef.

Back home in Maine for a summer, Perry was chef at Scarlet Begonias Bistro in Brunswick. The small but well-established eatery, which was owned by a fantastic couple, endeavored to provide excellent quality cuisine.

When asked about Perry’s arrival in our neck of the woods he confessed to being in Maine when a friend asked for a ride here. Perry thought he would drop him off and continue on to California. That was 11 years ago. Our lives sneak up on us sometimes.

Perry worked and learned in Driggs in the kitchen of Teton Thai and later in Jackson when the same family opened The Indian, now Teton Tiger. Perry found a home at the Knotty Pine Supper Club in Victor for six years, the last half as executive chef. At Cosmic Apple Gardens in Victor, Idaho, Perry did a work share to learn about organic farming.

Perry owned and operated Chops Eats on South Main in Driggs for over four years. The roadside take-out lunch stand served Teton street food and soul food sandwiches that used local ingredients.

Perry says of Citizen 33, “The plan is to do a spring tune up to the menu with fresh interpretations of what we are already doing and really bring the beer into the flavors. I’ll love to continue developing skills and exploring new flavors to help make our town an exciting place to go out and enjoy eating.”

Bru, who cooks for private clients, writes about the valley’s talented chefs.

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