Review: Red Sauce Rebellion in Excelsior

Excelsior’s newest Water Street restaurant brings familiar Italian flavors with a well-executed red sauce

If you’re going to call your restaurant Red Sauce Rebellion, you damn well better have an excellent red sauce. With my two sons, I put Excelsior’s newest restaurant and its sauce to the test—and I’m here to tell you the sauce got all over both of their faces, and it was absolutely worthy. Bold. Dark, deep red. Enough acid to pop, but thick and rich and fantastic.

Red Sauce Rebellion is in the old Victor’s on Water space, across the street from Jake O’Connor’s Pub and within walking distance of Licks Unlimited and Lake Minnetonka. It’s approachable but very well-executed Italian. Chef Eli Wollenzien found great success with Coalition a couple spots north on Water Street, and now in Edina, and he’s hit on a great formula here as well.

Photo by Jason DeRusha

We got to business with a starter of meatballs, which impressed in both size and the volume of gremolata (lemon, garlic, parsley) herbs sprinkled on top of the sauce. $13 for three meatballs.

Photo by Jason DeRusha

I ordered the trofie pasta: short, twisty noodles (perfectly made in-house), with fennel sausage, sweet peas, a white vodka cream sauce, and a healthy dose of fresh herbs. The vodka in the sauce and the herbs on the dish made this somehow far lighter than I anticipated—it was really a nicely balanced dish rather than an alfredo-style white-sauce bomb. I do wish the sausage had more fennel or more pepper or flavor. It was a bland note in an otherwise exciting dish.

Photo by Jason DeRusha

The lasagna is a show-stopper: incredibly fluffy layers of ricotta cheese and mozzarella. We did it up with a glorious meat sauce. My 12-year-old son inhaled the entire thing (giving me a bite) within seven minutes. It’s $16 without the meat sauce; we paid $3 extra, and it was absolutely worth the $19 price tag.

There’s a kids menu, too, and the kids spaghetti and meatballs is a smaller version of the main pasta. The kitchen’s pasta-making skills are solid. This is a really nice spaghetti noodle—there’s some heft, some chew, and deep flavor with that awesome red sauce.

I’m excited to go back and try the Rebel Pie, a pizza served in a cast-iron pan with a serious biscuit crust. Tuesday is Pints & Pies day, where you get a pie and two Excelsior Brewing Company beers for just $18. After seeing chef Wollenzien’s success opening a second Coalition, it’s easy to imagine a second Red Sauce Rebellion opening around here soon. Here’s hoping! I’ve got my napkin ready to clean that sauce off my face.

Red Sauce Rebellion, 205 Water St., Excelsior