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DINING: Rule-breaker Recess schools Indianapolis diners

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Dining - A&E

It’s somehow fitting that we broke a lot of the rules at Recess.

After all, local restaurateur Greg Hardesty’s new SoBro eatery (4907 N. College Ave., 925-7529) doesn’t exactly color inside the lines, either. The menu, which changes daily, is merely an FYI. Hardesty and his staff decide what’s for dinner. And let’s just say they’re a bit more adventurous than I usually am.

This seared scallop dish was served on a recent visit, but probably won’t be today at the ever-changing Recess. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

So I was more than a little anxious about my first trip. What if I had to eat salmon, which I’ve been studiously avoiding for years? Or a cow part that didn’t grow up to become steak? Or beets? I really don’t like beets.

Then my friend gave me a pep talk that put me in a better state of mind. She saw the mystery meal as a chance to try dishes she might not be brave enough to order on her own. If we left hungry, well, then we would just pick up something else on the way home. And it was a low-risk gamble despite the $35 to $45 per-person fixed price, since IBJ pays for our anonymous review meals.

Her points well-taken, we made our way to the restaurant, which looks more like an elementary school cafeteria than an upscale eatery. Think cinderblock walls, concrete floor and plastic chairs straight from the lunchroom. The wine list comes on a clipboard. It was a welcome departure from the typical fine-dining pretentiousness.

Our jeans-clad server gave us “menus,” explained the concept, and did a great job selling us on the wine pairings that accompanied the first three of the four courses ($20 when we were there, but prices change with the wines). We joked about not being able to decide what to order. He quipped that he’d asked the chef if he should push the chicken. Then we got down to business.

First up: Scottish Salmon Crudo. Of course. Not just salmon, but raw salmon. Raw salmon belly, to be precise—sliced thin and presented atop a cucumber-jicama slaw of sorts with a few homemade potato chips on the side. I ate my words along with the divinely delicate starter, which all but melted in my mouth. Turns out salmon can be delicious. Who knew?

The second course was even more challenging for me. The dish, dubbed the TNFL Special, will be Hardesty’s entry in this year’s Taste of the NFL culinary competition before the Super Bowl in Miami. He is representing the Colts in the annual charity cook-off to benefit hunger-relief organizations. His creation? Beef Lengua Chilaquiles. Yep, beef tongue. Extra credit for those of you who translated on your own.

This time, I let my friend dig in first, and her moan of pleasure had me following suit with only minimal apprehension. I needn’t have worried. The braised tongue (from Jasper-based Fischer Farms Natural Beef) was pot-roast tender despite the sear it got before joining a mixture of roasted poblano peppers, tomato, onion and garlic, all served on strips of tortilla chips. It reminded us of a deconstructed taco.

After that, the third course seemed downright tame. A skin-on, bone-out chicken breast (from Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange) served in a bowl over beans, mushrooms and spinach in a red wine chicken jus. The skin was crispy from a quick trip to the frying pan, the meat as tender and juicy as it comes. The combination was downright delightful.

Dessert was billed as a blood orange and banana parfait with candied pecans. Sounded good even before we found out the signature came on top of a slice of pound cake sitting in a pool of crème anglaise. It was sour, sweet and satisfying all at once.

None of the portions was huge, but the meal was plenty filling. And at $36 per person, the price wasn’t prohibitive even if dinner for two exceeded IBJ’s $50 weekly Dining budget.

Which brings us back to the rules we broke. 1. Normally, we avoid duplication during restaurant reviews—different dishes per diner makes for a review with more scope. 2. We also typically eschew one-night-only specials since we want whatever we tried to also be available to the reader. 3. We try to do lunch instead of dinner. 4. We try not to order things we don’t think we’ll like. Recess didn’t give us a choice. And that’s all to the good.

Now who’s up for a game of kickball? I promise to play by the rules.•
__________

First in our month-long series of reviews of College Avenue eateries.

 

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  • Um... It is Meridian-Kessler, not SoBro
    The restaurant (and everything east to Winthrop) is in Meridian-Kessler. SoBro is east of the Minion and south of Kessler.
  • Why so snooty?
    Alisa's comments below are right on. To be honest, I can't comment on the calibre of the food at Recess, because I didn't make it that far. The moment I perceived that condescending, nasty vibe of which she speaks I was splitsville. I had heard a lot about Recess so I pulled in one afternoon on my way home from work to have a peek at the menu. The joint was closed, but I saw that the kitchen staff were doing prep work so I walked in the (unlocked) door. Everyone stared at me as if I were about to rob the place. Owner Greg Hardesty approached with a snooty "Can I HELP you?" I told him I'd been wanting to try the place and asked if he thought he could accommodate me and my very common diet. He seemed extremely unenthused about the idea and told me it would be "hard" (it wouldn't). So, let's see--he's uninventive, ungracious, and impolite. He's certainly well-poised to survive the Indy dining scene!
  • Nyuk nyuk
    Seems to me that the newly opened place is already turning some people off. Shocking. This place won't even exist a year from now.
  • Normally...
    Normally I would say that Alana's comment points to a restaurant with a death wish. However, since Recess' menu is so of the moment, some might say flighty or capricious, it probably is way more convenient in terms of prep time and ordering to know roughly how many people you expect. But I'll admit it kind of cuts against the grain when a restaurant that boasts of its dressed down inviting atmosphere looks down its nose at people who don't have a res. I love Greg's food and he hires professional staff, every now and then they verge on snooty, and that was okay at Elements and even H2O. But if his goal is great food, available without forethought or agonizing choices, the service principles are going to have to be WAY more 'customer is always right' than it was before. After all, if you've already made all their decisions for them, the customer will be judging everything from the moment they walk in. They need not worry about choice, only assessment. That's a fine line to walk.
  • Did the owner pay someone to write the reviews
    This is not a comment on the IBJ review; but rather, the ones underneath. My husband and I went there last night for an early dinner. The restaurant was deserted, but when they asked us if we had reservations, and we said no -- they acted like we were lucky to be accomodated. Note -- the restaurant was EMPTY. Then, we sat for 10 minutes without even a greeting, even though the restaurant was full of staff. Finally, we were handed the fixed price menu (sorry, I am not going to be pretentious with French), which was over $50 per person; certainly not the prices mentioned in reviews. The whole atmosphere seemed condescending and patronizing and we left -- as we did my wife overheard someone there say, 'good luck finding some place to eat'. We are both professional people and not the hicks that we seemed to be treated like --
    • Yay!
      I can't wait to try this place. I live in SoBro, I call it SoBro, I am SoBro. If you don't like it, go buy a condo off the Monon.
      • Kudos
        Great review. Made me laugh. Made me want to eat at Recess. Enables visualization of the building's exterior and interior. Encouraged me to be even more adventuresome and open minded when I explore new eating venues.
      • Terrific Addition to the Neighborhood
        Ever since Greg sold Elements, I've been waiting for him to open a new restaurant. The fact that it's in my neighborhood is even better. The food, the service, and the wine were all outstanding, and I'm looking forward to a return trip. The single menu concept is refreshing after a long day of work. It's like going over to a friends house for dinner -- if your friend is a gourmet chef.
      • One shot
        I fail to see how people can continue to submit "restaurant reviews" based on one visit to a restaurant. Also, I wish everyone would drop the "SoBro" thing. Please. It's embarrassing.

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