To explain Revival’s backstory and that of chef/co-owner Thomas Boemer at this point would be like starting another Batman movie with Bruce Wayne’s parents being murdered. Who doesn’t know by now? Boemer and his team have amassed a pile of awards and “Best Of” distinctions – for Revival as well as his other restaurants, In Bloom and Corner Table – you could blanket Lake Harriet with. Get someone from these parts talking about Revival and the force of their praise might blow you into a tree. What’s left for me to say? I’ve wondered that for some time.
Well, I can tell you what we do. I can tell you how our table is laid out. I can tell you how we behave in the presence of their famous fried chicken. I can bring you along, in a way.
My inner circles and I convene at Revival to celebrate big things: law degrees, made-up holidays, Thanos’ demise, or maybe just getting everybody in one place at one time. That’s reason enough. I mean really, how often does that happen anymore? If you’re coming, we’ll save you a seat. If you haven’t decided whether you’re coming, we’re happy to pester you into submission.
You’ll be late? Fine. We’ll wait on ordering dinner, but you’d be a fool to think we’re waiting on hush puppies and the first round of beers. There will already be empty dishes by the time you arrive, but no worries: the second round of everything is already on its way.
It’s important to point out that we haven’t begun the real business of ordering food yet. You don’t have to open the menu to know you want hush puppies. You get settled into your seat, words are exchanged, and hush puppies appear.
When we do get down to the real business of ordering food, we ungate a Running of the Bulls-style stampede of words that would flatten most people but is cleanly collected, without fail, by our server. We don’t worry about whether someone already said “mashed potatoes” or “mac and cheese.” If we have one order of both, great; if we have two orders of both, better. If you want it, just say it.
Somebody says “Tennessee Hot Chicken, Whole Bird.” Somebody always says that.
Between our orders and the time our appetizers arrive, we drink and catch up. My buddy Hornish is a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor, and the truest Vikings fan I’ve ever met. Our first big gathering at Revival happened just after he was invited onto the field during a Vikings halftime tribute to cancer survivors. To an eavesdropper, that conversation probably just sounded like the zipping of race cars taking a corner.
Maybe one of us has saved up some date recaps to feed our morbid curiosities with, or maybe the birthday boy had a light bulb turn on over his head and called people together spontaneously. Revival isn’t the nutty idea, but it gives us the protein and carbohydrates necessary to carry out the nutty idea. My last visit was because obviously: how else would you renew your strength after Avengers: Endgame?
The food comes.
Two people said “mashed potatoes,” turns out, and it looks like three people said “mac and cheese.” Wait, how many cheeseburgers do we have here? And why are we treating these cheeseburgers like they’re side dishes? Someone ordered a triple, and the triple might even look large for a second. We load up on plates and spread them around, paying no consideration to how tabletop space actually works. When one plate moves, it affects two or three others. It’s kind of like shuffling dominoes.
But then …
The Tennessee hot chicken arrives, the whole bird. It lands on the center of our table like an aircraft, and everything else – including that adorable triple cheeseburger – is shooed to the side.
The weight of this chicken, I tell you, the crackles of breading under tooth, and that heat! We’ve got people whose foreheads look like the outside wall of an overfilled bathtub every time they try eating hot food, but they nonetheless charge upon this temple with reckless abandon.
It gets messy. Cheese builds up on faces; crumbs spread and multiply like a post-party glitter apocalypse; and juice trails off that fried chicken, onto your hands, down your forearm, and onto your clothes if you aren’t careful. It’s too much to lick clean. It’s time to pick up that white cloth napkin and turn it a nice, bronzy red.
Reaching is natural during these meals. Expect silverware collisions, accidental elbow shivs, and “Ope.” Maybe the mashed potatoes are in front of someone on the other end of the table, but that person has two hands on a chicken breast and he or she’s working, so you just reeeeach your fork over there and scoop up as much as you can. Half-full glasses of water slide around and teeter on edges precariously. Half of us are laughing about something. It goes like this for an hour or more.
Once the bird is gone, we must now settle two pieces of Texas-sized bread that have been waiting under the meat, soaking up sauce runoff. We don’t necessarily “fight over” that bread, but if you watched us do it and didn’t know us, you might think we were.
The meals ends, the bill comes, and containers are set down tableside. We ration the leftover side dishes, and we try to be civil about it. We give our faces one last cleaning with those poor napkins. Whoever paid for the bird gets the uneaten pieces, if there are any.
You’re seriously asking me how the food tastes? Here’s a quarter. Go to the nearest casino, hit a jackpot, and that’s how the food tastes.
We don’t know when we’ll all be together again. Will it be here? Good chance. There’s just as good a chance this exact meal like this is what opens up our schedules and synchronizes our hungers. Truly, the difference between a dinner out and a holiday is the difference between a lot of meals and the meal you’ll have at Revival.
More information about Revival can be found on their website.