Raise your hand if you grew up regularly eating Sunday dinner as a family. Keep your hand up if you continue that tradition. Now, keep it up only if you make the entire meal from scratch.
How many of us still have our hand raised? Very few, I imagine.
We fill our Sundays shuttling kids to sports games, watching football on TV or tackling myriad to-dos before the work week begins anew. Who has time to turn a blend of grass-fed beef and pork into bacon-wrapped meatloaf or to labor over finger-lickin’ fried chicken, the smell alone so enticing it brings neighbors knocking on the door?
Purely on concept, Revival deserves four stars because it places a high value on coming together at the table. It relies on honest Southern cooking and a reverence for family recipes as much as farm-fresh ingredients.
So, before we hurriedly sit down and start snatching complimentary oven-fresh cornbread, whose crumb is so moist and fine the brain thinks it’s cake, let’s pause — er, say grace — in thanks for what chef-owner Kevin Gillespie has given us.
We’re guests (albeit paying ones) in a century-old home that’s warm and inviting. Gillespie family mementos and photos fill the wooden bookshelves in the parlor. There’s a bar where you can sip on a cinnamon-laced Toasted Old-Fashioned — a fabulous rendition of a classic — before the main spread is served.
One dining room is formal, but homey like at Grandma’s. On the opposite end is another eating space with the casual feel of a breakfast room. And then you spot the enclosed side porch, fancy with string lights. Oh, Grandma, please, can we eat out there?
A la carte is an option at Revival, but life is simpler and more economical when you stick to the family-style dinner. For $42, you get one hors d’oeuvre, that memorable cornbread with honey butter, an entree, five side dishes (aka trimmings), dessert and coffee or tea.
The asterisks: The kitchen determines the appetizer and trimmings, there is an upcharge of $5 or $10 for certain entrees, and everyone at the table has to agree to the family-style meal. So, set aside your differences and just agree.
(If you go a la carte, hors d’oeurvres are $6-$10, entrees $12-$30, sides $5-$6 and desserts $5-$8.)
Among the starters, cross your fingers for the toasted deviled ham tea sandwiches, warm little wedges holding a swipe of the spicy meat spread.
The kale salad brings a generous bowl of local raw kale jazzed up with apple slivers, a creamy, nutty artisanal cheese from Nature’s Harmony Farm, and boiled dressing. On one visit, the dressing, a cross between hollandaise and a tangy vinaigrette, was thin and milky, dripping off the leaves instead of coating them. On a subsequent visit, the dressing was thicker and the salad satisfying.
Fried chicken rules the roost at Revival. With all three pieces (thigh, breast and drumstick, in my case), the skin was crispy, without being oily and seasoned, with a touch of spicy heat. The meat was incredibly moist and juicy. The wet batter is bound to have something to do with such perfection, but so, too, the adept hands of the two cooks at Revival whose sole job it is to make fried chicken day in and day out.
If Revival opened up a drive-through and sold its fried chicken by the bucketful, I’d be first in line.
The grilled quail, which brings two semi-boneless birds glazed with roasted honey and garlic, was so delicious that I forgot my manners, put down knife and fork and ate it with my fingers.
Another down-home classic done right was the meatloaf. It wouldn’t even have to be wrapped in bacon to merit high marks, because putting the sweet glaze under heat lends the loaf a wonderful crustiness, the ground beef and pork inside not the least bit dry.
Other entrees disappointed.
The tomato gravy didn’t do a thing for the pan-roasted Carolina catfish. The rice in the Georgia white shrimp with red Savannah rice was so salty it left my lips chapped and sodium-puffed. The bone-in pork chop and the rib-eye, both ordered medium-rare, arrived medium. Both also required hard work with a knife. And both dishes, along with the shrimp, bring an upcharge if ordered as part of the family-style dinner.
Don’t expect elegant looks from sides like hickory-smoked greens or My Granny’s pole beans, but do expect fantastic flavors.
The mac-and-cheese, however, is cover-worthy. Like another of the restaurant’s trimmings, the old-fashioned creamed potatoes, it is served in a quaint cast-iron ramekin with matching blue lid. Each spoonful holds teeny-tiny ditalini covered in melted smoked cheddar, a nutty Gouda-style cheese called Parrano, and Velveeta, plus the crunch of crushed kettle chips.
It speaks volumes that the kitchen changes its trimmings offerings daily. I appreciate the freshness of young carrots in dill, green cabbage with confit ham and roasted turnips with greens and apples, yet those sides underwhelmed.
What did wow me was lemon icebox pie for dessert. A graham cracker crust and fluffy meringue sandwich a layer of lemon custard whose bright tartness will please lemon curd lovers.
A toasted vanilla pound cake was moist, as was the chocolate cake. The latter, while good, didn’t quite deserve the awesome tag; it tasted sugary sweet rather than deeply rich — which one would expect from Dutch-processed cocoa and coffee.
I also expected coffee or tea to accompany dessert, since those beverages are included in the family-style dinner deal. That offer never came on one of my visits. But, while that server might have been off his game, during other visits the staff impressed with knowledge of the menu, prep method and sourcing, along with well-timed coursing.
Credit Gillespie for reminding us that good food in good company doesn’t have to be a thing of the past. There is a place for the hourslong, hearty Sunday dinner of old, and Gillespie makes that available — and affordable — almost every day at Revival.
I’ll toast to that with another Toasted Old-Fashioned.
129 Church St., Decatur
2 of 4 stars (very good)
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