Remember when Sexworld dominated a block on Washington Avenue just off 394? Now it’s been relegated to a side street, and there’s some gentrification going on. Not that gentrification is necessarily bad; witness the opening of Red Rabbit. Red Rabbit is the latest offering from Red Cow‘s Luke Shimp, who appears to be trying to retake the block for the family-friendly crowd. While Red Cow is the burger arm of Shimp’s empire, Red Rabbit is focused on reasonably priced Italian dishes, with offerings intended to appeal to a range of tastes from basic to more adventurous. But like Red Cow, Red Rabbit keeps the menu from being overwhelming and focuses on a few dishes in each category. Scalability may be a factor in that; Red Cow now has three locations, and it doesn’t look like Red Rabbit’s concept would be difficult to replicate either.
Red rabbit seems designed to be a cheerful neighborhood hangout with a warm, welcoming interior that matches a friendly menu primarily focused on pasta, wood-fired pizzas, and oysters. The oysters appear in a few daily selections at market price as well as in a wood-grilled version (above, $13) that turned out to be an indulgent platter of buttery goodness. The oysters were plump and tender and swimming in a scallion butter that was both rich and tangy. They were topped with herbs and Parmesan, and served on freshly toasted crostini that were excellent for wiping up every last drop of the liquid.
The menu has its moments of cheekiness. Leave it to a restaurant named Red Rabbit to label its salad section “Rabbit Food.”
That playfulness was apparent in other areas, too. We tried a pizza named P, B & J ($12), which was not — thankfully — a peanut butter and jelly pizza but a pineapple, bacon, and jalapeño version. It was a rather fun mix of sweet and spicy served on a nicely grilled thin crust that still had a little chewiness — not quite the wonder of a crust from Pizzeria Lola, but several notches above the frequently skimpy, underdone crusts served by most Punch Pizza outlets.
The Yukon Gold Pizza ($13) was a play on a brunchlike dish of eggs and potatoes. Shredded Yukon Gold potatoes served as a base, like hash browns, and were topped with bits of crispy pancetta, red onion, and fontina. The pizza was drizzled with rosemary oil, and a perfectly runny egg took the center. When the pizza was brought to the table, the server delivered a little showmanship by taking a spoon to gently open the yolk and then carefully spoon it around the perimeter of the pizza. In nearly every way, it was the opposite of the P, B & J, except again, for a well-prepared crust and the fact that it also was a treat to eat. This would be an excellent weapon against a hangover.
As was the pasta we tried. The server recommended the Cavatelli ($13), a simple dish of house-made Italian sausage with just a touch of heat (not enough to worry the heat averse) tossed with pasta in a light olive oil and white wine sauce. A touch of fennel pollen enhanced the taste of the fennel in the sausage. Nothing fancy, and yet so satisfying.
Our server recommended the Sticky Toffee Cake ($7) for dessert, and that, too, turned out to be a good call. The cake was dense and rich, and was surrounded by melted salted caramel. The sweetness would have been too much without the addition of a few bits of candied orange peel and a dash of sour cream, rather than whipped cream, both of which cut through the sweetness with a needed bitter tang.
The libation menu, titled “Social Lubricants,” includes not just drink descriptions but explanations of their roles in a meal. While the Aperol Spritz ($9, above) and house-made Limoncello ($5) were not exemplary enough to make for a destination visit, they were fine and enjoyable meal accompaniments.
We enjoyed the food, but equally deserving of praise was our server, who walked that fine line between being friendly and being intrusive and never tipped over into the latter. He could teach classes.
Brenda Johnson contributed to this review.
Pizza, pasta, and oysters
201 N Washington Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Daily 11 a.m.-midnight
Bar closed one hour after kitchen.
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $9-$29
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Street meters, valet some evenings