Hop to it

Submitted photo

What Red Cow did for beef, Red Rabbit proposes to accomplish for Italian eats. Restaurateur Luke Shimp’s latest goal is to make this dining option accessible and affordable for the fans of your basic flat crust and red sauce, while at the same time luring the attention of finicky foodies with an interesting and quality-driven menu.

Nice work if you can get it, and I think he has.

Not an easy prospect, here in the North Loop’s hotbed of culinary showtime: pleasing both tube-steak Twins fans and the Wagyu condo crowd in a single setting. Yet, rehabbing a vintage storefront into a pleasant vista of exposed brick anchored by a photogenic back bar makes it tempting to sink into those old-timey booths.

But the smartest move was hiring Todd Macdonald — the talent behind Calhoun Square’s now-shuttered Parella — to head the kitchen. This is a fellow who knows his way around all things Italian but here has toned it down a notch to the more accommodating stuff of trattorias — same sharp eye for prime ingredients and clever combos, but curated in a fashion Joe Six Pack and Joe Batali can enjoy. (Speaking of which: Nice beer list. But dig deeper: interesting wines and — deeper yet — an amazing and sophisticated cache of spirits.)

And they’re open late. (Ever try to find a sweet meal after 10 p.m. on a weeknight? Good luck with that.) We started our post-theater supper with an order of sausage and peppers. (How old-school eye-talian is that? Bring it on!) Terrific. Several lusty house-made links, rich with Italian spices, lounged amid fingers of sautéed sweet peppers atop a drift of soft, creamy, corn-forward polenta, star of the appetizer list ($10–$12), which also includes — ready? — meatballs in red sauce.

Then, from the salad selection ($10–$12), a mammoth, serves-six mound of fresh and spiky greens, topped with an ideally runny poached egg and accented by the savory crunch of hazelnuts, a dusting of fennel pollen and mist of cherry vinaigrette. Just fine. Or go for the classic chopped salad or Caesar.

Next, a pair from the pasta dishes to share — or not ($12–$16). They’re not perfect — this isn’t Monello — but generous and lusty. The Carbonara utilized fresh linguine, bits of smoky-salty pancetta and plenty of Parm but in a thick, muddy sauce. (Do try this at home, and stir in the requisite raw egg just before serving, which didn’t happen here).

Then the tortelloni — huge, honking knife-and-fork bundles of dense, less than malleable noodles encasing Swiss chard — pureed rather than chopped, which diminishes its impact, darn it — abetted by chevre, roasted garlic, more hazelnuts and rosemary.

Had we had room for pizza (individually sized, $10–$15) I’d have relished more of that old-time red sauce, salving everything from salami and house sausage to a simple Margherita. Or try the mozz-mushroom-garlic cream sauce version. But not the PB&J. Please!

And what’s a sticky toffee pudding-cake, straight out of Ireland, doing on an Italian menu? I have no idea, but it’s my favorite weakness, so fine. And it proved terrific — an ultra-moist slice rich with salted caramel, a strong, sharp, come-hither blast of candied orange peel and a side of sour cream. Or choose panna cotta fused with lychee granite or chocolate budino, a pudding that sounds beyond wonderful (desserts $5–$8).

The concept looks like the prototype for a brood of Rabbits, but until multiplying, as they do, head here for a taste of Mamma Mia underscored with clever updates.


201 Washington Ave. N.