Patio Pick: Falling Rabbit brings elegant fine dining to downtown Duluth

The exterior of Falling Rabbit in Duluth. 
Courtesy of Jamie Hester
Caption
The exterior of Falling Rabbit in Duluth. Courtesy of Jamie Hester

Credit: Jamie Hester

Credit: Jamie Hester

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s dining critics are resuming in-person restaurant visits, marked by the recent launch of a weekly Patio Pick series. We’ll share our experiences online each Thursday, and in the print edition of the Friday Do Guide.

When Chuck Woods was growing up in Kansas, his mom used to have a nonsensical poem she’d murmur to herself when they were in the car and she realized she’d left something at home:

I had one once, but the wheel fell off.

So I said to the king, “George, you hold the umbrella, I’ll walk in the rain for a while.”

But it was rabbit season, they were falling out of the trees.

According to Woods, this was just his mother’s way of brushing over a slight inconvenience, and gently moving on with the task at hand.

Fast-forward a few decades.

By now, Woods is an experienced chef with solid credentials (Chicago’s Girl & the Goat). Tired of the big-city rat race, he and his soon-to-be wife, Babs, have followed his parents to Georgia. One day, while exploring the north Atlanta suburbs, they spot a historic masonry building in downtown Duluth. It looks like the perfect home for the restaurant they’ve been contemplating.

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Falling Rabbit’s charred rabbit comes with morel and chanterelle conserva, sunflower crema, smoked blueberries, and a fresh, herby summer salad. 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Falling Rabbit’s charred rabbit comes with morel and chanterelle conserva, sunflower crema, smoked blueberries, and a fresh, herby summer salad. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

With his father and two brothers, Woods ends up buying the property, the former First Baptist Church of Duluth parsonage. After navigating the terrors of the pandemic and a complex build-out, the couple open Falling Rabbit in November. With a commanding front patio and a whimsically designed interior by Studio SOGO, it provides an idyllic setting for Chuck’s modern cooking and Babs’ fetching cocktails.

The name, inspired by his mother’s patter, sets the tone for an experience that is both a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole — note the neon sign in one corner that says “Let me lick your plate,” the surrealist paintings, the dark dusky walls — and an invitation to let go of your troubles. Or, as the 34-year-old chef puts it: “Relax and smile and be happy.”

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Babs and Chuck Woods are the owners of Falling Rabbit restaurant in downtown Duluth. (Courtesy of Jamie Hester)
Caption
Babs and Chuck Woods are the owners of Falling Rabbit restaurant in downtown Duluth. (Courtesy of Jamie Hester)

Credit: Jamie Hester

Credit: Jamie Hester

My first experience at Falling Rabbit happened not in the season of hares — but, rather, hurricanes. My mission, to sit out front as dusk fell on Duluth, was sabotaged by an outright tempest. So I settled into a booth by the window, and soon there were cocktails and crumpets and grilled oysters and scallops and, yes, even some rabbit to soothe my soul. (I’m told the patio will soon be equipped with a retractable roof, so a surprise rain shower won’t be a total buzzkill.)

Falling Rabbit’s pan-seared scallops are dressed up with elotes, pickled cherry tomatoes, tart cherry conserva and corn puree. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Falling Rabbit’s pan-seared scallops are dressed up with elotes, pickled cherry tomatoes, tart cherry conserva and corn puree. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Chuck is an ambitious, technically accomplished chef, with a sophisticated palate and a filigreed style. You just never know what he’s going to pull out of his hat! He loves smoke and char, acid and fat — sometimes, it seems, in a single bite. He dispatches seasonal gems — strawberries, corn, white asparagus, watermelon, edible flowers — with aplomb, creating stunning visual compositions and explosive flavors.

Falling Rabbit’s Green on the Vine cocktail is made with Wild Turkey rye, strawberry-dill shrub and BroVo rose vermouth, and garnished with dill and a slice of green strawberry. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Falling Rabbit’s Green on the Vine cocktail is made with Wild Turkey rye, strawberry-dill shrub and BroVo rose vermouth, and garnished with dill and a slice of green strawberry. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Babs, for her part, has devised a list of nine clever and inventive cocktails — all of them original, some riffing on the classics (Watermelon Negroni, an Old Fashioned with grape must). I loved the rye-based Green on the Vine, with strawberry-dill shrub and rose vermouth.

Falling Rabbit offers crumpets as a starter; fried in duck fat and served with honey butter, they are more like fry bread or beignets than the traditional British griddle cake. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Falling Rabbit offers crumpets as a starter; fried in duck fat and served with honey butter, they are more like fry bread or beignets than the traditional British griddle cake. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

To go with our sippers, I suggest the grilled oysters, petite but hardly demure, thanks to a dribbling of fig-tomato jam, gooseberries and garlic butter. If you’re expecting traditional crumpets, you may be surprised by the duck fat-fried version here. They are oily and rich, like a doughnut or beignet.

Falling Rabbit’s grilled oysters are dotted with fig and tomato jam, gooseberries and garlic butter. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Falling Rabbit’s grilled oysters are dotted with fig and tomato jam, gooseberries and garlic butter. (Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

A dish of summer squash — with crab mole, bacon and cocoa — was somewhat heavier than I envisioned. Tiny pattypans and zucchinis were overpowered by a sauce that would seem more suitable to baked beans than tender squash fingerlings.

Moving on to the mains: The kitchen really soared with the charred rabbit and seared scallops. Both were smothered in a laundry list of this and that (morel and chanterelle conserva, sunflower creme, demi-glace, smoked blueberries, and summer salad on the rabbit; elotes, pickled cherry tomatoes, tart cherry conserva, corn puree and so on, on the scallops). And yet, they were delicious.

Woods sometimes overreaches, sometimes overwhelms. But he’s a talent worth getting to know, come rain or come shine.

FALLING RABBIT

Menu: Contemporary American cuisine, with an ever-changing seasonal menu

Alcohol: Thoughtful cocktails, wine and local craft beers. For patio sipping, try the Green on the Vine. The Folie a Deux Pinot Gris (Sonoma County) was lovely with the scallops.

What I ordered: Crumpets, grilled oysters, scallops, rabbit loin, summer squash, sponge cake

Service options: Dine-in and takeout

Mask policy: Encouraged but not required for all staff and guests

Address, phone: 3580 W. Lawrenceville St., Duluth; 770-623-1452

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.

Website: fallingrabbit.com

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