Family is the name of the game for the newly opened Crown Republic Gastropub in Cincinnati’s Central Business District. Located on the first level of the same building as Encore Apartments, Crown Republic is the culinary child of a three-member ownership team consisting of Anthony Sitek, Haley Nutter-Sitek and Mike Casari. The trio of friends (Anthony and Haley are now married) met in culinary school in 2009 at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island and formed what Casari calls a “family-like bond,” starting a small catering company and personally working in restaurants up and down the East Coast before finally opening their own.
“It’s been a dream of ours for so long now,” Anthony says. “We’ve been working on this venture for at least five years.”
Anthony and Casari are head chefs, and Haley is front-of-house manager. The three have an easy, comfortable rapport — so comfortable, in fact, that Casari currently lives with the Siteks and their two children. That kind of closeness translates well to a restaurant, at least in this instance, with a well-balanced managerial dynamic and a cohesive menu with ingredients that are made, as Anthony says, “99.9 percent in-house.”
“We’re smoking our own meats, we’re curing all of our meats, we’re making our pasta, we’re making our own sauces, we’re making all the dressings,” he says. “Only thing we’re not making is our bread, which we’re getting from Ryan over at Sixteen Bricks.”
The trio bring a lot of culinary clout, too: The Siteks worked in Chicago before moving to Miami, where Anthony opened a pair of Mediterranean-themed restaurants, and Casari opened Lady Gaga’s family restaurant in New York City under chef Art Smith. Crown Republic’s menu draws on that Mediterranean influence, with what Anthony calls “clean and light” flavors and a general movement toward freshness in the industry.
I stopped by on a Saturday for a solo, pre-theater meal, and because my eyes are always, always bigger than my stomach, I ordered enough food for two: the octopus tabbouleh ($16), fried chicken gobbets ($8) and pappardelle ($16).
The octopus was tender, served on a bed of farro tabbouleh under creamy, zesty duck-fat hummus and loaded with fresh herbs and merguez. When I ran out of the four pieces of housemade pita (more akin to the kind gyros are served on than pocket-y pita), I shoveled the rest of that delicious food confetti into my mouth with a fork.
Did you know the name “pappardelle” comes from the Italian phrase “to gobble up”? Well, it does, and that’s exactly what you’ll do. The housemade noodles are at least two-inches wide and curled in a winding nest under a nice Bolognese sauce, topped with a pat of green ricotta gremolata and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and parsley. I’m not sure if everything noodle-y needs to be al dente or not, but these noodles were very soft.
Oh, and the gobbets. You’re probably wondering what those are.
“An adult chicken nugget,” Anthony says. The gobbets are soaked in the malt brine the crew makes their pickles in — how’s that for resourceful? — then fried and served with honey hot sauce on the side.
The tangy malt brine elevates the chicken’s coating and the honey hot sauce brings balance; a single order is perfect to split with a second person. During lunch, the gobbets are also available in Crown Republic’s spin on a po’boy, served with lettuce, tomato, malt pickles and garlic aioli on a hoagie.
Speaking of lunch, I also visited Crown during a weekday and tried the beet toast ($8) and CRG burger ($12). The former is made with a walnut tapenade, which took every single one of my taste buds for a surprise ride to FlavorTown. It was smoky, sweet, wholly unexpected and really good.
“Everyone has a beet salad on their menu, but we’re doing a beet toast with roasted beets, arugula and goat cheese,” Anthony says. “It’s not like it’s a complicated dish — it’s a simple dish. We’re just adding elements to make it better and make your palate explore, essentially.”
I think ordering a burger at any restaurant is a good barometer for determining the restaurant’s style and quality level (this is a self-originated thought and I’m not sure if other food reviewers do it, but I do and it’s worked pretty well thus far) and Crown Republic’s did not disappoint. It had a delightful pickle aioli and reminded me of a much better, more mature Big Mac.
The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with extended hours Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays for family time.
“Families take care of each other, and we understand that means separating and giving everyone their space,” Haley says. “Family always comes first. That doesn’t go for just how we serve our food like family style, that goes for everything. Our employees, our customers. We want them to always feel 100 percent comfortable here and if they don’t, then we’re not doing our job properly.”
To that end, the trio is keeping their price point low and consistent. Nothing on the menu is over $25 — they’d rather have you come in twice a week than once every six months, Anthony says — and they have a solid offering of wines, beer and specialty cocktails. The dessert menu is created by Benjamin Arington of Fat Ben’s Bakery. Check out his restaurant options like housemade gelato or coconut pistachio cake, or swing by Fat Ben’s in-house pastry window, open 7-11 a.m. Monday-Friday, for a morning jump-start.
“Honestly, we feel like there wasn’t a concept like this in this city,” Anthony says. “Cincinnati’s such a family-oriented city that we were trying to just become a part of that family. We’re not in it for the money. We’re in it to show people what we could do and what we’ve learned. When you walk in our door, we want you to feel comfortable. We want to know you by first name.”
You know. Like family.
Crown Republic Gastropub, 720 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, crgcincy.com.