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Chef Trey Cioccia’s Black Rabbit

A new, downtown cocktail bar provides a much-needed spot for adult beverages and small plates.

Written By:  Erin Byers Murray

Photographers:  Jen McDonald

Chef Trey Cioccia has spent the last few years running his SoBro restaurant The Farm House from behind the shadows and dust of a massive nearby construction project. A test on both the fledgling business and the young chef, it was a phase that thankfully ended with the opening of the Bridgestone building—but also left Cioccia with a fierce determination to stick through the tough times, even as he watched his bottom line shrink. Three years in, the menu still shines with seasonal, rotating dishes.

His second concept, which has also been years in the making, opened last fall in another part of town that’s seen its fair share of construction debris. Black Rabbit, a cocktail bar serving small plates, sits near the edge of Printer’s Alley on 3rd Avenue North, an area that’s become a hotspot for historic revitalization.

With Black Rabbit, Cioccia’s farm-to-table ethos provides a supportive backbone, but this time, he and the team are also playing with history, both in the cocktails and on the menu of snacks. More bar than restaurant, the space has its original 16-foot ceilings, fireplace, brick walls, floors, and broad circular columns. Interior designer Kathy Anderson added pieces of contemporary art, a comfortable couch and lounge chair by the fire, tall blue banquettes in the back, and rustic accents, like charred wood edging on the bar. Drinks are served in handsome and hefty etched glassware and silver ice buckets are set about. It can feel like a stylish friend’s comfortable downtown living room—a grown-up bar for grown-up drinkers.

Live jazz music also sets the tone: Performers are staged near the front door offering cool and not-too-noisy background music. Depending on what seat you choose—close to the music, nestled in by the fire, or up near the action of the open kitchen—your evening vibes can swing from cozy and intimate to lively and social.

The drinks help craft that experience, too.

Bar manager Troy Smith says, “our cocktail menu is designed to be approachable.” To that end, he split the list into corresponding Classics and Revisions—the rye and absinthe-laced Sazerac, for example, has a cousin in the brandy-based Carousel. “That's the beauty of this menu: someone who is usually an Old Fashioned sipper might be interested to know the base idea of our revision is a small deviation from their norm.”

There are also a handful of shrub-based cocktails, like the short, refreshing Josephine, brightened by dry strawberry cider, and punches. There’s also a thoughtful beer list and some solid values to be found on the wide-ranging wine list.

Though they’re touting it as a cocktail bar, Cioccia and his team, led by chef de cuisine Chad Kelly, don’t skimp on the food—they use the list of snacks and small bites to play with both technique and ingredients.

“You can show more of your characteristics as a chef in a small plate,” Cioccia says, noting that dishes might swing from rich and Southern to cocktail-party simple.

Historical nods appear in plates like oyster rilletes served with house-made crackers and pretzels, and the bar’s caviar service, which evokes a time when caviar was cheap and abundant. And, because the food is meant to motivate those salivary glands, many dishes hit the triumvirate of fat, salt, and flavor, like the boiled peanuts that get a turn in light, tangy barbecue sauce, and a charred pork belly served sliced with a side of mustard dipping sauce. A wood-fired oven produces most of what comes out of the kitchen. There are a few bigger platters, like the Dagwood, a do-it-yourself sandwich construction site that changes depending on what’s coming into the kitchen. It could be a pork shoulder, or brisket sliced thin. The accompaniments include bread, and a pile of fixings and can feed a small group of noshers, or a hungry twosome.

What to Order

What to order:

Josephine cocktail, $12
Boiled peanuts, $7
Rabbit rolls, $12
Panzanella, $10
Dagwood, $30

Like The Farm House, the menu changes almost weekly, depending on what’s coming in from the fields, butcher, or fishmonger. One we hope stays in rotation is the rabbit roll, a play on the South Carolina ham roll, in which a bratwurst-like slab of rabbit sausage is set between two buns, the bread sweetened with pineapple juice. Grainy mustard, a sliver of Swiss cheese, and bits of onion make it one of the most crave-able bites to be found this side of Broadway—and it’s available until 1 a.m.

218 3rd Ave N, 615-891-2380; blackrabbittn.com

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