In late February, Castellucci Hospitality Group, the team behind Cooks & Soldiers, Double Zero, Sugo and the Iberian Pig, opened Recess at Krog Street Market.
Located next door to its sister KSM concept, Bar Mercado, the health-conscious, chef-driven food stall and counter service cafe is open daily for lunch and dinner and breakfast on weekends.
Chef Victoria Shore, who previously worked at Cooks & Soldiers and Double Zero, and was on the opening team at Bar Mercado, is in charge of the kitchen at Recess, where she had a big part in developing the mostly plant-based menu.
Look for a wide variety of salads, grain bowls, sandwiches, toasts and sides, with optional meat, seafood and vegetable add-ons.
Among the whimsically named standouts, there’s the My Farro Lady Bowl with kale pesto, broccoli, butternut squash, pickled red onion, arugula, radish, and golden raisins.
The Chick Flick Sandwich layers roasted chicken, hummus, walnut-raisin pesto, butternut squash, and pickled red onion on multigrain bread.
And the Mushroom Patty Melt mimics the textures and flavors of the deli original with a grilled shiitake and cremini mushroom patty, Swiss cheese, red cabbage and mustard aioli on grilled rye bread.
Drinks, both with or without alcohol, tend toward healthy and clever combos, too.
The Turmeric Tonic, with fresh turmeric, ginger, lemon, orange, peppercorns and soda water, becomes the Turmeric Spritz with the addition of bubbles. Gin & Juice is mixed with dtox Pink Power and lemon juice. And the Froze is a wine slushy cocktail.
There’s also a bit of beer and cider, plus a good number of wines by the glass, as per Bar Mercado.
If you’re not getting food to go, the 15-seat counter, which faces the open kitchen, makes a retro-cool spot to land amid the KSM foot traffic. Think wine bar meets healthy Waffle House.
Last week, Shore and Fred Castellucci, the president of Castellucci Hospitality Group, sat down at the counter to share their thoughts on Recess.
“The story of this restaurant goes back a few years,” Castellucci said. “I thought it would be really cool to do a vegetarian or mostly vegetable-focused restaurant that would be a kind of upscale, sit-down, full dining experience. But the space never really came along to do that.
“And then when this opportunity presented itself, and we were given this kind of market stall opportunity, I thought about that, again. Just based on the way my wife and I had been eating, and the way we were cooking at home, creating flavor without layering on a lot of animal fat.”
Conceptually, Castellucci said he was inspired by some places on the West Coast.
“I wanted something that was vibrant and fun,” he said. “Something with a lot of color, with almost a pop art kind of vibe to it. The name Recess was meant to be something fun and irreverent and not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s a counter service restaurant with food that you can eat every day and feel good about it.
“The progression of these types of restaurant concepts is from the very early nutrition, juice bar culture. The second iteration was all of these salad bar concepts that you’ve seen pop up the last 10 years. I think the next step is food people and chefs taking it further and saying there’s another, more flavorful way to do this.”
Shore said the next step was definitely a challenge she was up for, after first working on the Bar Mercado menu, then making the transition to Recess.
“This is a pretty true refection of how I eat on a daily basis,” Shore said. “I pretty much live on vegetables, so in that sense, it is about the closest I’ve gotten in a restaurant kitchen to being able to present that to the public. The salads were pretty straightforward. When we were doing the tastings for those, I would just put them up and everyone would say that’s great, so that section was an easy one.
“Sandwiches needed a lot of thought and refinement. Everybody loves a sandwich, you know. But there were a lot we tried that were just too indulgent for the concept. We needed a vegan option, and a vegetarian option, and not six pork sandwiches.”
Overall, Shore said a lot of the menu ideas grew out of the “family meal” chefs and restaurant workers commonly eat together before service.
“Working in restaurants, we get so tired of the food that we cook for the menu, because you see it all the time,” she said. “So it’s about what we can do with the same elements to put them together in different ways, and have them be lighter, and more exciting to us.
“That’s what’s kind of cool about this menu. We’re giving the public a little bit of an inside look at how we look at food, even if they don’t know it."
99 Krog St. NE, Suite V, Atlanta. 404-480-4866, recessatl.com.
More images from a First Look at Recess