Revival in South Minneapolis: A Roundtable
When the time came to write about Revival, the newly opened Corner Table spinoff that is selling itself on Tennessee hot- and Southern-style fried chicken, we found ourselves in an unexpected pickle: a solid half of our writing staff had thundered through the gates in order to form a first opinion.
So in lieu of a traditional review, we present a roundtable — four different perspectives on one of this year’s most anticipated new restaurants in Minnesota.
JAMES NORTON: Let’s start by focusing on food, which is kind of our tradition here. I’m a huge fried-chicken fan, and I’ve been making it myself for the past five years because I haven’t been satisfied with anything available around here. Are my frying days over? Is this the fried chicken that Minneapolis-St. Paul has been waiting for?
JOSHUA PAGE: It sure could be. The Southern fried variety is tender, and the coating has a fantastic crunch and isn’t the slightest bit greasy. So why the hedge, you ask? Because it was underseasoned. House-made sauce spiced it up, but it still needed salt. Actually, almost everything we sampled needed salt. And I was less impressed with the Tennessee Hot option because the coating wasn’t as crisp as I’d like, and the seasoning was unbalanced — a drizzle of vinegar sauce nearly did the trick, but I still had to reach for the salt shaker. So, with a few tweaks, this would be the fried chicken we’ve been waiting for.
TED HELD: Fried chicken fans are going to be happy. My favorite in town is Rooster’s on Randolph in St. Paul, so if you live in South Minneapolis, particularly in the surrounding neighborhoods, I think you’ll be thrilled. The fundamentals were there — juicy, toothsome meat, and crunchy breading, even with the Tennessee hot sauce.
I loved the sauce options on the table. They were all great: the Revival sauce was sweet-potato based and Caribbean accented; the Carolina sauce was vinegar based; and then there was vinegar infused with bird’s-eye chili (a more Southern sounding name for Thai chili). I’d agree with Josh that the chicken was a little underspiced — it was almost like they left some blank flavor that you could fill in with the sauces.
PETER SIEVE: It’s damn fine fried chicken. Very moist, tender, and the exterior had the right amount of crunch / give. I didn’t find mine to be underseasoned, though I might have if the sauces hadn’t been there — I’m a sauce kind of guy. The more the merrier. And I found both the vinegar / black pepper and the jerk / habanero to be delicious.
The Tennessee Hot chicken was the big winner for me. For $7.50, the bang-for-the-buck factor of the two-piece Tennessee Hot rivals anything up and down Nicollet Avenue, both in terms of flavor and value. I found the exterior admirably crisp, despite the slather of hot sauce. My first impression was of a low, lovely, honey sweetness followed quickly by a deep and rolling spicy heat wave. The pickles garnishing the plate were appreciated foils to cut the heat down, as was the Texas toast.
I really loved the hush puppies ($4). So light, when all too often they’re heavy, dense, and greasy. My favorite side of all, however, was the simplest: the Carolina Gold rice ($4), tossed in butter and scallions. As simple as it gets, but deeply comforting, and such a nice clean balance to the more intense bites around the table. A testament to these guys’ appreciation for a fine ingredient, and their smarts to let it stand on its own.
I walked away feeling like everything was a steal. The sides are all reasonably priced and generously sized, and the two-piece chicken is plenty for one person. I’m excited to go back to tackle some of the massive sandwiches I saw being delivered to other diners.
PAGE: I should note that the kitchen was understaffed when I was there, according to one of the servers who explained the very long wait for fried chicken. Understaffing may have contributed to the seasoning issues, which, as I noted previously, ran throughout the meal.
SIEVE: We had arrived just before the lunch rush on opening day, and things came out quickly and impressively executed. I’m guessing you are correct in your assertion that their understaffed-ness led to less than perfect chicken.
HELD: I’ll split the difference there. We waited nearly 45 minutes for our food last Saturday at about 4 p.m., but the chicken was spot on. The restaurant was three-quarters full and we were offered no explanation. There seemed to be a lot of servers milling about, although ours didn’t drop by for a long time, likely because she couldn’t face my famished and pregnant wife with nothing to offer but water.
NORTON: Well, we’ve seen this before with numerous restaurants — a busy start followed by some service recalibration. I’m guessing they’ll bang this into shape in the near future.
Part of the plan for Revival seems to be complementing the haute-ier fare and atmosphere of Corner Table a la Alma and Brasa, or Saffron and World Street Kitchen. How do the two restaurants work in that respect?
SIEVE: In my mind, Revival is to Corner Table as Brasa is to Alma. And in that vein, I think Revival will succeed mightily: a menu that is laser-focused on a region / style, and doing it very well, for not much money.
WSK is far more akin to its own food truck, and although WSK is the fast-casual offshoot of Saffron, in a similar fashion to the other spots, I think WSK hits the sweet spot with the counter service model. Brasa really does no wrong, but at Revival in particular, I feel like counter service might have been the better model — I think it would be more efficient, all around, and lend itself better to the sharing nature of the menu.
With super-casual food like this, I generally prefer the counter-service vibe. We did wait a HELLUVA long time to get our check, and that seems unnecessary in this day and age of easy ways to pay (Square, Apple Pay, etc). I’m often surprised at the lack of innovation in restaurants to make it easier and faster for diners to pay up and get out the door. There was a line of folks waiting to sit, and we sat for 20 minutes waiting for our check — first for the server to drop it off, and then to pick it up. Of course, they just opened; they’re working out the kinks — but it does start an interesting conversation, in my mind, about how much better most food spots could be about turnaround.
PAGE: I definitely see Revival as Corner Table’s “Brasa.” In fact, toward the end of our meal, I realized that we ordered as if we were at Brasa: fried chicken and a bunch of a sides. (Revival’s dinner menu includes a section of entrees that range between $14 and $18.)
Like Pete, I’m an enormous fan of Brasa. Revival has the potential to share that rarefied air with Alma’s more casual sibling, but it has a ways to go, which isn’t all that surprising given that it’s only been open about a week. For me to crave Revival as I do Brasa, it has to step up its sides game. While we loved the fried green tomatoes (although they, too, needed salt – $6), biscuits, and collard greens (and my wife is grateful that the greens are vegetarian – $4), we were underwhelmed with the white cheddar grits (we couldn’t detect the cheese – $5), the red slaw (it was one-note – $3), and the hush puppies (they lacked a distinctive corn flavor).
I’m glad Revival has table service, because I tend to have a lot of questions about food and don’t like to wait in line to order more dishes. Yes, I’m 80. Given the excellent service at Corner Table, I expect that Revival’s wait staff will improve quickly. If it doesn’t, the owners may want to take Pete’s advice and change to counter service.
HELD: Looking at talented chefs who have opened a daily-eater type of restaurant (or at least a more-frequent eater than Alma, Corner Table or Saffron), I’d add Sandcastle and Paddy Shack to the list. I think Alma:Brasa and Corner Table:Revival is the closest comparison, but in all cases, you can really feel the love for the style of food. Despite all the effort and creativity the chefs put into their flagship restaurants, the food at Revival, Brasa, etc. is probably nearer to their hearts … a more personal project.
It sounds like we all had minor-to-medium service snafus, and hopefully, they’ll get that ironed out. But I don’t think counter service is the answer. There are so many places where you can order fried chicken at a counter, usually from a teenager wearing a visor, and I think Revival is a tier (or two) above that. WSK feels like a permanently parked food truck. Each meal is self-contained and (if I recall correctly) they use disposable cutlery and dishes. They’ve embraced technology, and fast counter service totally works for them. But I prefer table service at a place like Revival or Brasa, where you eat family style.
NORTON: Since we started this conversation (ah, the glory of email), I’ve eaten at Revival and had a blast. I’ll definitely be making fried chicken less frequently. I found theirs gorgeously crispy, and the hot stuff was perfect: fiery, but not at the expense of depth of flavor. It’s easy to shout down spice with heat, and that didn’t happen.
We tried the cheeseburger ($13), and thought it was excellent. The thick-cut bacon was meaty and rich; the burger was flavorful and tender; and the whole package was balanced, no one element dominating the dish. Dave Loomer, who happened to be at the bar while we dined there, endorsed it strongly, and compared it to the burger at Parlour, which is high praise.
The sweet potato pecan pie, served a la mode with Sweet Science ice cream, was — except for the crust — absolutely killer, and we scraped it down to the last molecule. The crust had that doughy / raw / too-thick thing going on. Hopefully, that’s a kink that’ll get worked out. As it was, we were too happy with the filling to complain.
I got to chat with Chef Thomas Boemer (below, left). Apparently, the seed for Revival was planted (in part) by a conversation we had a few years ago wherein I banged on about how much we needed a really serious fried chicken restaurant in this town. Remember to put that in my obituary.
From a service perspective, we got seated right away at the bar, and food (plus check) arrived at a snappy pace. So there’s an argument for relaxing and hanging out at the bar instead of holding out for a table. There’s also an argument for knocking a take-out window out of the side of the building — they’d have a line 20-deep on warm summer nights.
Philosophical / business question for you guys. Revival is going great guns, right out of the gates. Is there more room around here for great mid-South / barbecue food? Or are the Twin Cities too northern and tame to handle more than a couple of great barbecue and / or fried chicken joints? I feel like we could have a dozen of each (if they were doing great food), and it would be a good thing for everyone. But maybe I’m reading the scene incorrectly.
HELD: That’s definitely some version of paradise, a great barbecue and / or fried chicken joint within walking distance of every home in the Twin Cities. I bet if we put our heads together, we could come up with a dozen right now. And that’s not to take anything away from Revival: The fried chicken is outstanding. Revival’s connection to Corner Table elevates their profile, but for Southern food, you can walk a few blocks down Nicollet to C&G’s Smoking BBQ (above) and a few blocks further to Scott Ja-Mama’s. To play devil’s advocate, I’d turn the question around and ask why we need another Southern food joint (not that Revival needs anything beyond their excellent food to justify their existence).
SIEVE: I agree with James; I think the Twin Cities could handle a dozen more spots like Revival that have a laser-like focus on a style of food — whether it’s Southern or not — and do it well. Northern palates are becoming more sophisticated with every passing season. And I think that small neighborhood businesses are finding out that one key to success is NOT trying to be everything to everyone.
PAGE: Seems like I had the outlier experience: I’m sticking with the understaffing hypothesis. The beauty of this type of roundtable is that it serves a similar purpose to multivisit reviews. (Just because something is off one night doesn’t mean the restaurant is flailing, and vice versa). But this process has the added benefit of combining several reviewers’ perspectives.
And now to your question. Bring Q Fanatic (above) to the Twin Cities, and add a Minneapolis location of Rooster’s, and we’re good to go.
NORTON: I’m not sure if this is the right forum to break news, but Q Fanatic is in fact coming to the Twin Cities. Hopefully later this summer, south metro. They’re still working out some details, but I for one can’t wait.
PAGE: The North Rises!
Southern food in South Minneapolis
4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis
Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-10 p.m.
Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
BAR: Wine and Beer
ENTREE RANGE: $7.50-$18
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: No