The Peculiar Rabbit is, indeed and a welcome divergence from the norm it is.
Chef Geoff Bragg has done interesting and idiosyncratic work around town much longer than youd guess if you looked at pictures of him from the vegetarian Peaceful Dragon to the New American bistro Pewter Rose. He brings a smart and innovative palate, and particular skill with less-usual vegetable fare, from rutabaga mash to turnip chips.
Rob Nixon, majority owner of the Jackalopes group, has been around since opening Jackalopes on the Korner in 97, which in turn moved to Elizabeth and became Jackalope Jacks. (Jackalopes, another kind of funny bunny, are mythical antlered rabbits.) He and partner Andy Wilson saw that place gain neighborhood hangout status before buying this building, a former church turned lounge in Plaza Midwood, six years ago. What took so long to jumpstart the Rabbit? A massive renovation, and all the flaming hoops and zoning scuffles such a thing entails.
But now the Arts & Crafts-tinged thing is done, with handsome wood- and tilework, and a stunningly framed, wide view of the uptown skyline from the second floor. Theres no frame at all on the Rabbits rooftop view, just a whole lot of stunning: all of uptown Charlotte laid out, on a clear night, for the drinking in. (Bragg laughs about watching native Charlotteans whip out phones to photograph this version of the city theyve never seen.)
Bragg began with an edgier menu and has reined it in to become more user friendly, he says. That could mean common, but manages not to, even if he did have to lose the crispy whitebait (like little fries, except actually whole fish: kind of a hard sell).
Now offered: fat soft pretzel hunks with rarebit (think cheese sauce) made with Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Copper. Devils on Horseback: goat-cheese-stuffed figs wrapped in bacon on brioche with a beet reduction. A perfect duck liver mousse with housemade pickles, pear and duck confit (but sadly limp toasts). A juicy, kofta-like lamb burger with cucumber-yogurt sauce tucked into flatbread, and a regular burger with Tillamook cheddar, with or without red bean chili.
The Granny Smith tartar sauce with excellent fish and chips is fabulous, a tiny bit of sweet tempering the tart, and though you might have to ask for malt vinegar for your fries, they do have it. A good pork chop (and cider-braised greens!) sports a perfect fried egg on top, while the rabbit cassoulet proved not quite the luxurious combination you expect from that preparation.
My only disappointment was a truly awful cake with berries thats now off the menu.
The spring menus are due out in a few weeks. Those seeking culinary adventure should go with specials, where Bragg and sous chef Brent Martin jump around a little more among ingredients and pairings.
The cocktail list is short and clever, but the beer list outshines it: A couple of dozen on draft, with a few locals in the mix. Yes, theres wine.
Variety rules in seating options (though theres nowhere soft to sink into): Theres a ground-floor patio, plus dining area and bar; then a second floor, again with both regular dining and bar; then the roof, where seating is being expanded, says general manager Jason Gilbert. In all, the place seats about 300 and each level can get as noisy as youd expect, with all those hard surfaces and an echoey staircase tying them together.
Servers are neat in black shirts and vertically striped aprons, and move with speed and agility through sometimes unheeding crowds.
If the food and the view are what you seek, lean toward earlier evening. Id call sunset on the second floor, with light streaming through the bottles of spirits along the big windows (not great for the liquor, maybe, but truly marvelous to see) prime time at the Peculiar.
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