Luke Shimp looks just a bit embarrassed when he admits that the first time he visited St. Paul’s Wild Onion was when he bought it. Still, he was well aware of the building’s history, and the special place it holds in many a college student’s fuzzy memory. “It’s got a pedigree.”
The longtime Grand Avenue watering hole beloved for its birthday specials, disco ball and neon sign closed earlier this year, and Shimp, owner of burger joint Red Cow and North Loop Italian restaurant Red Rabbit, took over the space for his expanding red animal empire.
On Tuesday, Red Rabbit’s second location opens at 788 Grand Av., and relics of the old Wild Onion are nowhere to be found.
“The disco ball disappeared,” Shimp said. “It found its way to somebody.”
Instead, diners will find a prominent bar with television screens on one side of the sprawling space, divided from the main dining area by a row of open red booths like those found at Red Cows across the Twin Cities. Shimp hopes the sports bar atmosphere will appeal to the pizza-and-a-beer crowd that doesn’t typically stop in to the daintier bar in Minneapolis.
The food and drink menus are identical to the Minneapolis Red Rabbit, with Italian standbys like chicken parm, pizzas crisped in a 543-degree wood-and-gas oven, whole roasted cauliflower, sticky toffee pudding and a handful of tiki-style cocktails. (Though there are 36 taps to Minneapolis’ 20.)
The cuisine is “sort of traditional, sort of Italian, and kind of a meld between the two,” said executive chef Todd Macdonald.
Macdonald overhauled the Minneapolis menu about a month ago to get ready to open his second kitchen. Newer items include beef tartare with a creamy arugula-parmesan pesto, salmon crisps, and some additional pastas.
But there’s no forgetting about the pizzas, with the scent of the oven’s embers wafting into the parking lot. “It perfumes the neighborhood,” Macdonald said.
After this, Shimp’s next focus for his kindRED Hospitality is the corner of 2nd Street and Lowry in northeast Minneapolis. He’s behind a redevelopment project slated for the whole block, which he hopes will include a restaurant or two. Plans are still under wraps, with projected openings in 2020. “We’re not sure if it’ll become a red animal,” he said.