Chef Thomas Boemer grew up in Lexington, N.C., and for him, barbecue is deeply personal. "It is part of the identity there. You just knew it. You didn't realize that not everybody else was like that," he said.
Boemer has been gradually making barbecue part of Minnesotans' identity, too, since he first auctioned off pork shoulders for a charity walk here 20 years ago. When he and business partner Nick Rancone, the team behind the now-closed Corner Table, opened the first Revival in 2015, Boemer brought in touches of North Carolina, such as a distinct kind of hush puppy found only in certain parts of the South.
Boemer and Rancone's Keg and Case Market stand, Revival Smoked Meats, gave Boemer a place to let North Carolina's meatier barbecue traditions shine. But the counter could only feed so many. During the pandemic, they closed that St. Paul spot with intentions to reopen on a fuller scale in the former Corner Table, which they shuttered in 2019. It finally arrived last month.
"It's kind of like a full expression of what we couldn't do before," Rancone said.
We stopped in for dinner and left smelling like smoke — in the best way. Here's what we tasted at the new Revival Smoked Meats.
Location: 4537 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-236-4101, revivalrestaurants.com
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
The food: When Revival Smoked Meats first opened at Keg and Case, lines snaked through the market for their house-smoked pastrami, brisket and ribs. Having a stand-alone restaurant gives Boemer a chance to branch out and demonstrate his smoker's full potential while adding playful plates culled from his Southern childhood.
Drop biscuits ($7), stuffed with sharp white Cheddar that oozes like a Juicy Lucy with every bite, are a returning fan favorite from Corner Table and every bit as comforting as they sound. Texas Twinkies ($12) are whole jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and chopped brisket, then wrapped in crispy smoked bacon and glazed to sticky excess with a sweet pepper jelly. They're an irresistible starter, if you don't mind munching on a whole jalapeño.
Meats — brisket, pork shoulder, fatty smoked pork belly — can be ordered by the half-pound or as customizable platters that come with cornbread and a side (prices vary — a platter with brisket and a chorizo link, plus a side of mac and cheese, was $25). The macaroni curls, swimming in yellow cheese sauce, will be familiar to fans of the original Revival.
Sandwiches don't hold back. I ordered the enormous chili cheese burrito ($14) for my kids (there's no kids menu), but I ended up keeping it for myself. It lovingly reminded me of the frozen burritos I'd eat on late nights in my 20s, only with way better ingredients: chopped smoked pork, rice and beans and more of that cheese sauce, all wrapped up and griddled to a crisp. (The kids had plenty else to choose from.) A "bbq bành mí sando" ($14) had a lot going on: "chickenschweiger" pâté is slathered on a toasted bun, so it melts and drips right off. That's topped with sliced pork belly and chopped pork, and a variety of accoutrements that freshen things up just enough.
You won't find fried chicken on the menu, the dish probably most associated with the Revival name. But it's just a few blocks away at Revival proper (4257 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.) and the two restaurants definitely exist in the same neighborhood bubble. When I showed up at Revival Smoked Meats with a baby and couldn't find a high chair, a staffer walked over to the sister restaurant and returned with one.
The drinks: Cocktails on tap ($10) are a refreshing counterpoint to some of the richer menu items. There's a rhubarb margarita, pineapple mojito and bourbon sweet tea. Wine selection goes color deep (red, white or rose, plus one sparkling, $10). There are about a dozen beers, many local, three on tap. And in addition to bottled beverages (Mexican Coke, Topo Chico), the Arnie Palmer ($3.50) is a classic choice for zero-proof drinkers.
The vibe: A 60-seat patio wraps around two sides of the building, and on nice days, guests might not even set foot inside to see the airy modern dining room lined with gray booths and a few tables in between (and a glam wallpaper selection). There are 46 seats indoors (and no reservations). A bar doubles as a host stand, but there is no bar seating. There is a small parking lot, where you might catch a glimpse of Boemer's hulking smoker, which runs 24 hours a day.
Get your QR reader ready: Wait staff will greet you and check on you repeatedly, but all the ordering is done on your phone. Scanning the QR code on the table will bring up a menu, where you can make all your selections at once or pace out the meal and add more as you go. When it's time to settle up, press a button and it all goes on your credit card. Tip is not included. Takeout and delivery are available.