Normally, when a restaurant that we have reviewed opens a second location, it would not warrant a second review. But when that restaurant is Revival (525 Selby Ave), and when they’ve added barbecue to the menu, well, we’d be derelict in our duty to eat all the good food and not tell you about it.
The St. Paul menu basically takes the Minneapolis menu — the fried chicken, the burger, all your favorite sides and starters — and adds smoked brisket, pork shoulder, and pork belly (in various forms and dishes), making the choice of what to order infinitely more difficult.
The best of the bunch was the Brisket ($19 for a plate, with a side and corn bread). Deeply infused with the aroma and flavor of natural wood smoke, it was thick cut, tender enough to make you weep, and fatty, but not too fatty. The chewy, blackened bark was spicy first and sweet second, and it concealed a pink smoke ring underneath. Revival offers two barbecue sauces, a mustard sauce and an excellent black barbecue sauce made with molasses and drippings, but this brisket asked for neither.
The Pork Shoulder ($16 for a plate) was decidedly less impressive, perhaps because we ordered it alongside the brisket. It was similarly tender, but was much milder in flavor and didn’t taste as strongly smoked. In the Brasa vs. Revival rivalry that we’re attempting to create right now, Brasa is winning in the pork department, and Revival takes the brisket trophy.
The Pork Belly ($19 for a plate) was remarkably similar to the brisket, which speaks to a consistency in Revival’s smoking process. It was thick cut, tear-jerkingly tender, and had the same gorgeous bark with the same spicy / sweet taste. It was significantly fattier than the brisket, but that’s why your cardiologist warned you to limit your pork belly intake.
The dark horse of the menu is the Hot Link Chili Cheese Dog ($13). The metro area has a major cheeseburger game and a major sausage game, but compared to cities like New York and Los Angeles, we are kind of lacking in hot dogs, even more so with the recent shuttering of Prairie Dogs Uptown storefront (they are still at US Bank Stadium and recently started working out of the kitchen at the Viking Bar). We hope Revival’s hot link will be the vanguard of a new hot dog movement that will have us all eating chili cheese dogs by the summer. The hot link itself was delicious, living up to its name with red flecks of chili and a charred, snappy casing. Topped with smoky, beefy burnt end chili, melted cheese, green onion, and a pool of cheese sauce that soaked into the soft bun, this is a whole mess of incredible flavor.
Tacked onto the end of the salads and starters section of the menu is an item that is neither salad nor starter: a meal-sized bowl ($10) of the burnt end chili from the aforementioned dog, taking a well-earned starring turn of its own. The chili is prepared Texas-style (no beans), with the chopped burnt end bits and the tomatoes almost completely broken down. This is a profoundly comforting dish, and given its extraordinary amount of the distilled essence of dried chilies, we venture that you won’t find more flavor packed into a single bowl anywhere, ever, forever. Beware: It brings a creeping spiciness that will haunt your tongue.
If you’ve steered clear of okra in the past, you owe it to yourself to try Revival’s version ($6). It’s stewed in a sauce that reminded us alternately of Italian sausage spices and Indian curry.
Revival’s prices are what you’d expect for chef-prepared, not pitmaster-prepared food. But you get what you pay for, which in this case, is oversized portions of smoked meat and sides that rival any barbecue in town. Not everything was perfect, however. On one visit, our brisket / pork combo platter came out cool to the touch. We sent it back, and when it arrived again at our table, the brisket was hot but the pork was not.
Revival St. Paul is roughly twice the size of the Minneapolis location and with the same conversion-van-styled throwback charm. The tables are close together, especially along the side of the dining room, such that you are practically sealed into your table.
Over multiple visits, we found the service to be on par with the Minneapolis location. We had one server who was a consummate professional and one who seemed more concerned with the other servers in the room than the customers. But Revival could be serving its brisket with a swift kick to the throat and we’d still drive across town to wait in line for a table.
Masterful southern food
525 Selby Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55102
OWNER / CHEF-OWNER: Nick Rancone / Thomas Boemer
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Ask
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$28
NOISE LEVEL: Raucous
Daily 11 a.m.-midnight
PARKING: Lot, street