Table Talk
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Red Rabbit, the Italian sibling to owner Luke Shimp’s Red Cow mini-empire, is quickly coming together in the North Loop. The restaurant's 100 staffers began training shortly after Thanksgiving. Opening date? Dec. 20.

The one-story building has graced the corner of Washington and 2nd since 1906, and over the years it has housed an unlikely series of enterprises. The last tenant was an imported auto mechanic’s garage, and Shimp & Co.’s architectural archeology unearthed signs that the building was once home to a house of burlesque; look for a hand-lettered show times painted onto the dining room’s back wall.

The 50-seat bar’s decor best demonstrates the structure’s early 20th-century roots, with an original yellow brick wall and a restored bead board-and-beam ceiling. The zinc-topped bar is the domain of beverage director Ian Lowther and his ambitious cocktail program. Sommelier Jason Kallsen oversees a program of 42 wines by the glass (including four sparkling options; one is an unfiltered prosecco), all maintained by a cutting-edge, nitrogen gas-fueled preservation system.

Craft beers will occupy 19 of 24 taps; the remaining will be devoted to a house-made cocktail, a house-made cold press coffee, a pair of house-made limoncellos and an Aperol-prosecco spritz.

A prominent feature in the 80-seat dining room is a wall covered in horizontal cedar planks, the wood charred in a kiln and clear-coated. “I’m not a big barn wood guy,” said Shimp with a laugh. And yes, those are filament bulb light fixtures, but not too many of them. “We’re going for an industrial look, so we have some filaments,” he said. “But we’re trying not to overdo it, because they’re used everywhere.”

The restaurant’s design is by Studio M Architects in Minneapolis, and Shimp.

“I had a strong hand in most of it,” he said.

Outside, the property boasts a North Loop rarity: a parking lot. Its original 21 stalls were whittled down to 12, sacrificed to make room for a larger patio (a garage door between the bar and patio will bring the outside in) and a thousand square-foot kitchen addition. Shimp will operate a daily valet parking service.

Another original plan that’s been placed on hold is the patio’s greenhouse, which would stretch the outdoor seating season.

“We still might do it,” said Shimp. “But it’s going to cost $185,000, and I’ve already spent enough for now. We’ll look at it again at the end of next year.”

In the kitchen, executive chef Todd Macdonald and chef de cuisine Drew Yancey are focusing on pasta and pizza (all in the $10 to $16 range), in a format that Macdonald describes as “elevating the classics.”

The menu’s 10 pastas will include four made-on-the-premises options, with the rest coming from Italy’s Rustichella d’Abruzzi.

“To me, dried pasta is just as important as fresh,” said Macdonald.

Two examples: a lasagna that’s composed of Rustichella pasta, a creme fraiche-like buttermilk bechamel and Macdonald’s rich Bolognese sauce, and cavatelli tossed with house-made Italian sausage, fennel pollen and lemon.

As for pizza, the dough is proofed for 24 hours to create a thin, delicately crispy crust, and baked in a gas oven fortified with wood.

“I think Ann Kim’s pizza [at Pizzeria Lola and Young Joni] is the best in town,” said Shimp. “And the pizza at Black Sheep is pretty great, too. I just hope that we’re in the same conversation.”

Other dishes include burrata with oven roasted heirloom tomatoes and broccoli pesto (pictured, above).

“Everyone likes basil-pine nut pesto,” said Shimp. “This is Todd’s idea of a 21st century take on pesto.”

There will also be a half-dozen shareable entrees (most landing in the mid-$20s) that include a chicken Parmesan.

“It’s the Italian schnitzel,” said Macdonald.

As for the red salutation on the building’s exterior, it’s not a direct lift from Red Cow.

“But it’s still in the red family,” said Shimp with a laugh. The exact shade was chosen through a process of elimination, matching red wines with paint chips until landing on the right one, a pinot noir.

Red Rabbit opens Dec. 20 and will serve lunch and dinner (to midnight) daily, with weekend brunch coming soon.

Other news: Shimp reports that a Red Cow outlet will materialize at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (Concourse E, along with outlets for Salty Tart and Holy Land) by May 1st.