Playful risks at Recess

Recess Cafe

Farro and beet salad.

Farro and beet salad.

Photo by rebecca huval

Good for: A quick, nutritious bite for early breakfast or lunch—only on weekdays!
Notable dishes: Teacher’s Pet, farro and beet salad, chia pudding
California cuisine, downtown

Recess Cafe

1102 Q St.
Sacramento, CA 95811

(916) 389-0121

Sacramento still has a workaday downtown. Restaurants often close for the weekend and target state workers who just want a breezy lunch that’s a step above a BLT in a Ziploc bag. In March, Recess Cafe entered this fray with a whimsical sensibility for such a utilitarian walk-up counter.

Joe Mayo and Ross Dreizler opened the eatery “to serve creative and healthy food for busy working folks,” according to their website. Their restaurant offers breakfast and lunch inside the lobby of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Dreizler formerly worked as the chef behind Sapporo Grill Steak House at the Firestone Building, where he crafted funky rolls and lettuce wraps. Now, he’s applying that playfulness to lighter meals.

Week by week, Recess Cafe’s menu seems to gather new items as if it were collecting the ready-made meal section of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op. The California lunch cuisine is lovingly plated inside ready-to-go Tupperware, but features more flourishes than its containers might suggest. Breakfast options include a hefty breakfast burrito and egg sandwiches as well as fruit cups and chia pudding. Sandwiches skew toward the green side, with a rare sighting: a purely vegetarian sandwich with avocado and aioli.

Nutritious food at a reasonable price ($4-$9) should be enough of a draw, but the patio out front makes this a real recess. For the office worker, a dining table underneath leafy trees makes this a breather from cubicle life.

The food quality? Like many a lunch, it’s a mixed bag.

Let’s start with the good. The farro and beet salad ($3.95 for small) tastes inspired for something so tiny. Lemon crème fraiche added a whisper of sourness to beets that gushed with beet-sugar. Nutty, chewy bits of farro broke up the red vegetable medley, while arugula added a welcome zap of bitterness.

Oh, and that vegetarian sandwich? I didn’t understand how vegetables between two slices of bread could taste so crave-worthy. The Teacher’s Pet ($7.50) is more than the sum of its parts, which include creamy avocado and swiss cheese, heightened with saltiness and sourness from the pickled red onions and kalamata olives. Red pepper aioli pulls it together with a fatty base.

But I was disappointed by the School House Special ($7.50). Several small tiles of smoked salmon were randomly scattered about an open-faced sandwich of cream cheese on sliced bread—the lovechild of a New York bagel and an Australian avocado toast. The ingredients were all fresh, including cucumbers and pickled onions. It was only the presentation that made little sense. The bagel-toast Frankenstein was topped off with a cluster of three razor-thin lemon slices, and I wasn’t sure if I should eat them or squeeze them. (I ate them whole and sourly regretted it.)

I was pulled back in by the chia pudding ($4.95). Sweetened with maple syrup and layered with yogurt, the little bursts of almond milk-soaked seeds were wonderful with their toppings of strawberries and blueberries.

To be playful is to gamble on experiments that could fall flat. Recess Cafe admirably aims to entertain the palates of the downtown crowd with more than just the ordinary. I’d say it’s worth the risk. Ω