Tasting Intown: A review of Revival

Southern side dishes at Revival in Decatur.
Southern side dishes at Revival in Decatur.

By Megan Volpert

Decatur is beginning to suffer from an overabundance of choices. You can get French, Thai, Korean, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Indian, Irish, and 17 unusual kinds of ice cream, all within a couple of blocks. It’s delightful; it’s a great way to raise your kids right – unless your kid wants to eat nothing but pickles and mac ’n’ cheese. Well, you can still order them some junk off the kids’ menu while you enjoy your higher class food, can’t you? Except your awesome eatery doesn’t really focus on having a great pickle and mac ’n’ cheese for the kids. Decatur needs a reminder of the familial food things at the heart of the South – it needs a Revival!

Meatloaf
Meatloaf

Enter Atlanta native Kevin Gillespie with a treasure trove of classic home-style recipes under his arm, courtesy of Grandma Geneva. Naturally, my wife and I ordered the Family Style Dinner. We each got to pick an entree and dessert off the regular menu, and the kitchen took care of the rest – meaning finger sandwiches and pickles, bread service, a salad to share, five gigantic sides of the chef’s choice, and coffee or tea. We ate until we were overfull; we ate a complete meal out of the leftovers the next day; we finally finished the last bites on the third day; we only paid about forty bucks apiece for this much face-stuffing.

Cornbread
Cornbread

Everybody around here knows that Chef Gillespie knows what he’s doing. When you go in, the only hipsters are the ones behind the bar making two terrific kinds of punch (go with the Chatham Artillery). Revival is not a place for trying out edgy new concepts. The interior is blue and white with actual Gillespie family photos hanging everywhere. All the food is the very best possible version of exactly what you think it is. My wife ordered a beef and pork meatloaf that was, naturally, wrapped in bacon. I order the fried chicken, which was neither greasy nor overcooked. We both swooned over the fatback-fried silver queen corn, and actually raced for the last bite of hickory-smoked greens. Most of the time, neither of us will even go near the greens!

Drink up!
Drink up!

This is all very telling, because even as Gillespie is delivering exactly the Southern menu you desire, he is most considerately tweaking the details to provide a surprisingly unique plate. Take the cornbread for example. It’s brown and crispy on the outside, thanks to a light dose of bacon fat. The inside is completely fluffy; no hint of the usual flaking or crumbling you’d expect after an outside with such crunch. They’re shaped like triangles instead of slices or muffins. The butter is sculpted, not simply scooped. This is a bread service that speaks to a thousand loving little considerations – the time and attention lavished upon you by grandma.

Kayla Gillespie and the grandmother's who inspired the restaurant.
Kayla Gillespie and the grandmothers who inspired the restaurant.

Revival is a deeply hospitable place, and more than just the familial food style makes it so: the place owes its soul to Kevin Gillespie’s little sister, Kayla. You don’t have to ask around to figure out which one she is. The Gillespie siblings share twinkling blue eyes, flaming red hair, mischievous grins, and serious charm. Kevin works the kitchen magic, and Kayla works her spell over the dining room. She told us some great stories about the stuff on the walls, helped us decide on desserts, and kept all the servers in good spirits so they remained just as friendly and helpful as she was.

Every time she approached a table with a little kid digging happily around in a blue ramekin of perfect mac ’n’ cheese, Kayla would talk to the children first and the guardians last. She reminds me of my favorite cousin – the one I most often got to see when we all ended up at grandma’s house for dinner. As much as Decatur certainly appreciates a celebrity chef making dinner in the neighborhood, Revival is truly at its best when it reminds us of our roots and traditions. Couldn’t we all use a little more Sunday Dinner in our lives?

Revival is located at 129 Church St. Find out more at revivaldecatur.com.

Megan Volpert lives in Decatur, teaches in Roswell and writes books about popular culture.

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