Korean Fried Chicken and Cocktails After Dark at Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota's North Loop neighborhood

When I first met Red Cow owner Luke Shimp, I was interviewing him on my old radio program at KSIZ. He brought two giant rings with him, championship rings from his days as a mechanic for NASCAR crews. Those rings were humongous. Forget fitting them onto my hand: I worried they’d break the studio table karate chop-style if I didn’t set them down delicately. Remember what Vladimir Putin told Robert Kraft before walking off with that Super Bowl ring? I think that’s true about all championship rings.

My point is, Luke Shimp hasn’t stopped winning since his transition into the Twin Cities culinary track. It feels like forever ago that his first Red Cow opened on 50th St. and Drew Ave., but February only marks five years. Can you believe that? Since then, four new Red Cow locations have opened (including one at MSP International Airport) and the team has piled up a whole Google page worth of awards. Googling “Red Cow best” might melt your computer’s processor.

I don’t know if you’d call Red Rabbit, the restaurant Shimp opened with Todd MacDonald last year, a side project or an extension of the Red Cow brand. Whereas Red Cow is a reflection of Shimp’s love of burgers and our collective love of craft beer, Red Rabbit’s menu could be more acutely described as a reflection of its neighborhood’s tastes. It’s located in Minneapolis’ North Loop and offers pasta, pizza, oysters, vegetable-based plates and craft cocktails.

And the crew isn’t afraid to have a little fun after dark.

Ever heard of KFC? It sound like a stupid question, but bear with me here. At Red Rabbit, it stands for Korean Fried Chicken. You won’t find it on the everyday menus, because it’s not served everyday. In fact, Red Rabbit’s KFC is a dish that never sees the light of day. You’ll only find it after 10 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.

Hey: catching the chicken isn’t supposed to always be easy – just ask Rocky Balboa – but you’re in for a hell of a treat if you can be there when when KFC comes out. It’s sticky, it’s crunchy, and it pairs wonderfully with an Old Fashioned. With an Old Fashioned is exactly how I’d suggest having it.

A craft cocktail bartender at Red Rabbit restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota's North Loop neighborhood

Bartender Nicholas Bigbee guards a bottle of Red Rabbit’s exclusive Elijah Craig blend.

The Red Rabbit crew works their magic in the shell of an auto shop on Washington Ave. Look at all the flavor you could walk into from that location, including a Red Cow location on the next street down. Gavin Kaysen is here, a brewery fresh off winning two Great American Beer Festival medals is here, and Erick Harcey isn’t too far behind. During my visit to Red Rabbit, a fairly prominent chef sat with some friends right next to me on my left (I won’t name-drop him since we’ve never officially met).

I met the gentlemen to my right, though, a Minnetonka-based dentist named Steve Sarles. He was there with his brother, enjoying cocktails and having some pizza. I was on the fence about whether I’d have a cocktail at all, but Steve Sarles sold me an Old Fashioned. He might say he didn’t do much, but selling me an Old Fashioned doesn’t take much. In any event, the first piece of advice he ever gave me was a good one.

Red Rabbit’s Old Fashioned is made with Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura 10 and a sliver of orange peel. It fairly looks straight-forward, but so do sledgehammers. Similarly, its impact is undeniable. It’s strong, and finishes hot. If you’re like me, you love that about your Old Fashioned.

If you’re not in the mood for an Old Fashioned, don’t worry: you’ve got a book full of spirits to browse. Want wine? They’ve got 42. Want rum? Cognac? No alcohol at all? Tell you what, just look at the book. They’ve got something you want.

Similar to Red Cow’s Cowlaboration beer projects – Odell Brewing has been involved in the past, though most including the present one feature Stillwater-based Lift Bridge Brewing Co. – Shimp and his team at Red Rabbit procured a barrel of Elijah Craig bourbon just for them. Bartender Nicholas Bisbee broke it down for me after my meal. He said bourbons from over a dozen barrels were sampled in the selection process. Their batch is a nine-year vintage, 94 proof.

And it goes quickly.

“We move units of this,” says Bisbee, and recalled seeing entire bottles sold out during shifts.

Now, who’s ready for chicken?

The Korean Fried Chicken is made by frying the bird, letting it cool 12 hours, and frying it again. This precipitates a crispy, but clean, breading that you won’t want to leave behind with the bones. The nuts and seeds aren’t for show; they pull the rare feat of actually sticking to the food they rode in on. That’s thanks to a robust, sticky sauce that hits hard for its weight class. The mild is tangy, and stops just at the boundary of spicy. Only the most temperature-sensitive will need to exercise caution. The hot sauce is “the fun hot.” Eyes will water, breaths will get heavy, but nobody who enjoys hot food will wind up in pain. Nobody will be disappointed, either. I had both versions, and was given extra sauce on the side. I only used them to dunk a mild wing in hot sauce.

I offered the Sarles Brothers one of my smaller pieces (because I’m a horrible person, but you won’t judge me so harshly once you’ve had it). He expressed that it was difficult to tell where the breading ended and the meat began sometimes. That’s because Red Rabbit’s KFC is made with a smaller bird. While that ensures a less greasy meal, it also means the football-sized breast pieces we fight over at family meals don’t show up on these orders. You’ll get your $12 worth, though, believe me. As Steve Sarles’ brother exclaimed, “This ain’t that 1992 Chicken McNugget BS!

The Sarles Brothers were halfway through a PB & J pizza when we first engaged. It’s a pizza with red sauce, pineapple, fontina cheese, and jalapeno. I asked them what they thought of it; they called it “phenomenal” and said you certainly don’t need the dorky red pepper sprinkles for this one.

MacDonald doesn’t jump off a cliff with his pizza offerings. There’s a simple pizza with mozzarella, red sauce and basil. Boom. But there’s a pizza with Yukon Gold potato shreds, pancetta, fontina, rosemary oil, red onions, and – direct quote – “runny egg.” I guarantee you, “runny egg” stock is exponentially higher than it was a year ago. Dough is aged for 24 hours before being employed as pizza crusts, and and you can get your pizzas gluten-free at no extra charge.

Six pastas grace the dinner menu at present, going from classic spaghetti to a shrimp garganelli made with white wine, fresno chili, olive oil, almond crumble, and basil. MacDonald’s previous program was also an Italian restaurant – the now-shuttered Parella – and his menu at Red Rabbit features both dried and fresh pasta. Their pastas and pizzas all land within the $10-16 price range. Salads go $10-12.

Happy hours run from 3-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-close daily. Select beers are $2 off (Red Rabbit has 19 craft beers on tap) and glasses of wine are $2 off. Food specials include discounts on pizza, sausage, oysters, and toasts. More information and complete menu listings can be found on the Red Rabbit website.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited by Red Rabbit to try their Korean Fried Chicken. I received the meal for free.


RELATED: Red Cow and Red Rabbit both rank high on my Twin Cities Birthday Freebies list, and here’s a review I wrote of Red Cow back in … 2014 already?! Sheesh. Tell the Sarleses to start a food and cocktail blog so I can retire already.