When One Door Closes Another Opens: Red Rabbit Expands into Former St. Paul Hot Spot
By Halle Martin, 12 November 2018
After two decades of business, St. Paul’s beloved Wild Onion closed its doors last March. While the famous restaurant’s closure was a disappointment to many, it came with a bittersweet twist. Wild Onions owner, Jay Salmen, made a deal selling the space to restaurant entrepreneur, Luke Shimp, owner to the popular twin cities burger chain, Red Cow. In 2016, Shimp expanded his business, opening a new kind of restaurant, Red Rabbit, in the North Loop of Minneapolis, serving “uncomplicated, authentic Italian”. With the success of Shimp’s expansion, came time to grow even further, bringing Red Rabbit to St. Paul in the space that was formerly Wild Onion. Red Rabbit opened early October in the prime location on Grand Avenue.
While I was amongst those saddened by the news of Wild Onion’s closure, I was also excited to try Red Rabbit, given the quality and success of Red Cow. Accompanied by a friend, we entered Red Rabbit’s new St. Paul location on Halloween night to a full house. Regardless of the busy setting, we were delivered with prompt service and offered a table right away, though we decided to wait a couple of minutes for the booth that was about to become open. While they prepped the table, we stood upfront taking in the scene and casually chatting with the hostess, who was dressed in an Eeyore costume for the holiday. She was both kind and attentive, offering Halloween candy while we waited and answering our questions about the restaurant.
The dim lighting, tufted red seats, and brick walls created a cozy and sophisticated atmosphere. Even the coasters made an impression, with cocktails recipes and the Red Rabbit logo printed on them. The restaurant had been decorated appropriately for Halloween, which was a nice, festive touch that was not overdone in a way that would distract from Red Rabbit’s warm setting. Each server was in costume. Our waiter, Dylan, came to the table dressed as a doctor, assuring we were taken care of while providing friendly service. He showcased his knowledge of the menu and encouraged us to let him know if we had any questions and to ask for substitutes and customizations if need be. He didn’t fail to follow through and was readily available the second we had a question. He brought a pitcher of water to keep at the table, but also made sure to frequently refill the glasses for us. This effort, though appreciated, did get to be a bit intrusive after the third or fourth time.
We started off our night with an order of bruschetta with heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella from the menu’s “to share” section. It came out quickly and tasted fine, however, we were only served with two pieces of bruschetta. While they were decently sized, it could be misleading referring to them as a shareable dish. If you were to order for more than two people, the rest of your group would be out of luck.
For entrees, the menu offered a variety of Italian fare, from pizza to clams, but both I and my friend went with pasta. Everything was offered at a reasonable price. She got the classic fettuccine alfredo with chicken, while I went with the cavatelli with house-made Italian sausage.
Our meals were served just as swiftly as our appetizer and our waiter was there to offer pepper and parmesan to our pasta. We had little complaints. Fettucine alfredo is hard to ruin, but Red Rabbit made it even better, crusting the top of this dish with breadcrumbs making it the ultimate comfort food. However, as my friend got closer to the bottom, she found that there were some noodles that were undercooked and chewy, but she did not think it took away from the overall impression of the dish which was otherwise deliciously satisfying.
The Cavatelli was equally good. The Italian sausage was full of flavor and was spicy enough to please me, but not so much that it would upset those not keen on spice. My noodles were cooked just right, while the sauce was warm and creamy, creating a savory supper.
There were a couple of things that could be considered downsides to the meal. Many restaurants will offer a side to go with your entrée. A simple addition of bread or salad can go a long way, especially for those living on a budget. That said, the portions were not huge either. There was enough to fill us for the evening, but as someone who almost always leaves with leftovers, I sadly went home empty handed.
My experience at Red Rabbit was positive and I would easily go back again. We went for dinner, but the restaurant also serves lunch Monday through Friday, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. The food was great, other than those few chewy noodles, and the service was even better. Red Rabbit is a great addition to Grand Avenue.