First Look: Bar Mercado debuts Spanish tapas at Krog Street Market

The Spanish tapas restaurant took over the Krog Street Market space formerly occupied by the Cockentrice.

The makeover by Atlanta’s Square Feet Studio features bold colors and geometric patterns in keeping with the theme of a lively Spanish market. Seating stretches through the bright sunken dining room adjacent to the open kitchen to a cozy-cool bar area with a pink ceiling, and a canopy-covered patio.

The extensive small plates menu from chef John Castellucci is a take on the varied offerings commonly found at the tapas bars of Madrid. Multiregional flavors are arranged in three sections of vegetable, seafood and meat dishes. Plus, there’s a “quick tick” list of bar snacks, such as cured meats, cheeses, almonds and olives, and some traditional bites paired with a sip of sherry.

The drinks list from bar manager and sommelier Colton Wright features Spanish wines, sangria and beer, including local and seasonal selections on draft, served in 6- or 12-ounce glasses. House cocktails include the likes of the Hala Madrid, made with vodka, sloe gin, Lillet Blanc and rosemary, topped with cava.

Just before the opening, Fred Castellucci, who serves as president of his family’s restaurant group, was at Bar Mercado, where he talked about the evolution of the concept.

“That’s kind of what restaurants are about,” Castellucci said. “They start out as this small singular idea in one person’s head. And as it goes along, and meets reality, and other people get involved and get a say, it changes.

“But I think that’s probably the most exciting thing about what we do in building restaurants. Here, from really early on, it was about creating a cool restaurant in the context of the market. With Krog Street and the Beltline, the context is really important as a destination.”

Castellucci said that idea was the driving force behind the menu, as well.

“That’s what Bar Mercado is all about,” he said. “That’s what the name is all about. It’s the tapas bar in the market. We’re doing that with traditional, authentic, but elevated Spanish tapas. It’s the type of dishes you’d find if you walked into the best version of a tapas bar in Madrid or Barcelona.

“My brother, John, comes from fine dining. This isn’t a fine dining concept. It’s more of a casual, fun place. And the price point and simplicity reflects that. But the technique behind the food is very much driven from a fine dining perspective.”

As one example, plump chicken legs are “Frenched” and spend time in a sous-vide water bath, before being crisped and plated with romesco sauce and blanched almonds. In another example, house-made Spanish blood sausage is paired with fresh and cured chorizo, and plated with cipollini onions and apple cider.

Asked how Bar Mercado compares to the group’s other Spanish-influenced restaurants, Cooks & Soldiers on the Westside, and Iberian Pig in Decatur, Castellucci said that was always a consideration.

“For me, this was also about how to differentiate it from the other restaurants,” he said. “Cooks & Soldiers is more fine dining and upscale Basque cuisine. At Iberian Pig, we veer off in more creative, different ways that blur the lines of Spanish food, while this is more about getting back to classic dishes.

“Bar Mercado continues the conversation about what Spanish restaurants are in the United States, and specifically in Atlanta. It was about doing something really fun and energetic and enjoyable, in a space that reflected that.”

Bar Mercado isn't the only Krog Street Market concept the Castelluccis will launch this year — veggie-focused food stall Recess is also set to debut this fall.

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