BBQ gives fried chicken a run for its money at Revival St. Paul

BBQ gets the star treatment at Revival St. Paul.

BBQ gets the star treatment at Revival St. Paul. Courtesy of Revival's Facebook page

Though its space is roughly twice the size of the original south Minneapolis restaurant, the new St. Paul Revival comes with a familiar feature: the crush of hopeful diners vying for a coveted table.

The rush is for good reason. Though Revival's fried chicken game is strong, probably the strongest and best known in town, they’ve seriously upped their BBQ focus. After a first look, we’ll sign on with current consensus: They’re delivering the goods.

Though servers still ferry sculptural towers of fried chicken topped with green coins of pickles to eager tables, we’d encourage pushing it aside for a minute to focus on pork and beef.

The scoop is that Thomas Boemer is serious about making a BBQ tradition for the Midwest, rather than just mimicking other regional styles. Boemer is a good candidate for such tinkering: He grew up in Lexington, North Carolina, but is a longtime transplant to the Twin Cities.

The brisket is far and away our favorite bite of the three available BBQ cuts (though offerings will rotate, so keep checking back). Boemer is sourcing the beef from Creekstone Farms, a purveyor he says completely “nerds out” about meat, just as he does. Boemer’s visited not just the farms and the feedlots, but also the processing facility, designed by nationally acclaimed animal welfare reform expert Temple Grandin.

Without getting overly nerdy here, suffice to say that the beef is hand selected by each head of cattle, all prime, all Certified Angus Beef, lavishly marbled, “never-ever” administered with antibiotics or hormones, and dry-aged for about a couple of weeks before it gets to your plate. In other words, you could eat it as a steak, and Boemer has, but instead, he’d rather smoke it and give it to you as beautiful, beautiful brisket.

As far as the smoking techniques are concerned, I’m sorry, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy on that. What I can say is the equipment is state-of-the art, expensive, and will result in some of the tenderest, moistest brisket you are likely to ever eat. Boemer is mashing up techniques from both Texas and North Carolina, using a light rub mixture, and mixing oak and hickory for smoke. And that’s all I’m allowed to say.

On the plate, it arrives as two giant slabs, bigger than two people are likely to comfortably consume. You also get your choice of a side plus cornbread. Or, you can get it a la carte by the half or whole pound.

Pork belly is lavish as butter and spreadable in its fattiness, and if all of that marbling isn’t your jam, the pork shoulder offers leaner relief.

If you love Revival Minneapolis, know that much of the rest of the menu remains the same here. They've still got their classically decadent Southern style sides and starters. But a small smattering of new dishes appear in St. Paul, including a highly recommended chili, rippling with burnt ends and cornbread croutons; butterbeans plied with that fatty belly and sorghum syrup; and clams in an Herbsaint garlic broth.

The Q is also available piled into sandwich form, and a hot link chili cheese dog with burnt end chili, cheese sauce, and yet more cheese is like a double-dog-dare-you provocation on a plate.

Drop biscuits make me take back everything I ever said about them being a redheaded stepchild to real, layered flaky biscuits. The secret is in the White Lily flour, a southern brand with powder-fine winter wheat. They blend it with buttermilk, and Boemer says they barely mix the batter, then drop. The airy levity of this thing might astonish even the most discerning biscuit aesthete. 

Beer and wine is served affordably by the glass and bottle, their five housemade hot sauces stand proudly center stage on each table, and service staff are as pro as it gets in the biz.

Revival Two has emerged as a triumph. They’re doing more, bigger, and extra, meaning the tiny fried chicken place that could on Nicollet was not just a fluke.

I almost hate to tell you this, for adding that many more hopeful diners to the crush, but there it is.

Now open. 

525 Selby Ave., St. Paul