Kevin Gillespie’s Revival opens July 23 in Decatur, accepting reservations soon

”This one is really emotional for me. These are my family’s recipes.”
Revival fried chicken

Courtesy of Tuan Huynh

Gunshow’s Kevin Gillespie is ready to open his take on traditional Southern dining next Thursday. Located in the former Harbour House space at 129 Church Street in Decatur, Revival will serve only dinner at first and will offer lunch starting August 10th. Plans for afternoon tea are in the works as well. The dining room will have 100 seats as well as a covered patio. Gillespie’s right-hand man at Gunshow, Andreas Muller, will be the executive chef.

“It’s very traditional Southern cooking,” Gillespie says. “Atlanta has two distinctive styles of Southern cooking: Appalachian Mountain South and Coastal Wealthier South. My family comes from both sides so I’m trying to bring elements of both types of food.”

He says the Mountain South style is more utilitarian—simple but bold and flavorful with dishes like grilled pork steak with sorghum, while Coastal looks more like continental cuisine with creamed white shrimp with tomato red rice and more composed dishes.

“The gracious style of service will make everyone feel at home even if you’re eating something that’s not what your grandmother made,” he says. “The emotion from it [is intended to] take you back to what came before you.”

Below, Gillespie shares his inspirations, his challenges, and a sample menu for Revival, plus a preview of what’s next for Terminus City BBQ.

What does Revival look and feel like?
It’s very traditional and very homey. It’s an old home. We found the original family who built the home and talked to them about the way it was laid out and merged that with photos of my grandma’s home. So you’ll see a lot of Wainscot paneling and moldings. We kept the interior finishes and exposed the fireplaces. We divided the rooms like rooms of a home so it’s more compartmentalized. We built a brand new kitchen on to the back of the old home. The dining room is the old living room and parlor, and there’s one room we refer to as the sewing room because it has my grandma’s old sewing machine in it.

What does the menu look like?

Local lady peas and snap peas in lemon dill butter
Local lady peas and snap peas in lemon dill butter

It’s set up as hors d’ouevres, entrees, trimmings or sides, and desserts. Everything will be offered a la carte but I’m hoping most people order family style. It’ll be the quintessential Southern-style service. You choose your entrée and the table shares cold and hot hors d’ouerves, cornbread, fresh country vegetables and sides, and then you choose your own dessert with coffee or tea. It’s almost an outlandish amount of food—that’s how your grandmother would have wanted it. On Friday nights maybe we’ll do more fish; on Saturdays maybe we’ll do a steak. I’m thinking about the way people eat—more celebratory meals toward the weekend.

What kind of bar program will Revival have?

Bottled beer and wine—more of both than what we have at Gunshow. My wife and I are wine collectors, but I don’t love a huge wine list. It can be very daunting. We’ll have more family-friendly wines—not a lot of high-alcohol wines. We’ll have Rieslings and Gewurztraminers– a lot of the German wines go well with Southern food.

The program is being led by Kat Johnson. As for cocktails, I asked for all classics: juleps, classic phosphate, and a proper martini. We’re doing a couple of punches every night like a hurricane made with actual juices and a Chatham Artillery punch. The Chatham Artillery was a revolutionary war unit based in Coastal Georgia. I have an ancestor who was in it and the original recipe makes 200 gallons of punch. It’s like the Long Island Iced Tea in that it won’t taste nearly as alcoholic as it is.

So far, what dishes are you most excited about? 

Our cornbread. It’s the one recipe I don’t give away and every single person asks us for it. It’s so unique. The ingredients are very specific. Only one type of cornmeal and buttermilk can be used. I believe this recipe is some sort of derivative of a popover recipe from many years ago. It’s made to order with a crispy outside and light on the inside.

We knew people would want fried chicken but most of what we have in Atlanta is all one style. We wanted to do fried chicken that’s underrepresented in Southern cooking—a style that came from the African American communities. It’s a peculiar method of preparation where everything is kept wet. It took 40 iterations to get what we liked, but it makes the juiciest fried chicken you will ever eat. It’s super crispy and very lightly breaded.

How much, would you say, dinner for two at Revival is going to cost?
A la carte might be about $30 per person for food only. Family style is a much better deal for $49. The cocktails are $8-$10.

Revival cornbread
Revival cornbread

Courtesy of Tuan Huynh

What’s been the hardest part about this project?
This one is really emotional for me. These are my family’s recipes. It’s a personal expression, something I’ve wanted to do for years. We have a proud history that is escaping us because people want to modernize the cuisine. The biggest difficulty is how do you take something incredibly personal and still make a place that is functional.

I’ve been very committed to not having investment or partners. Our growth comes when we have people who are talented and ready to grow. I finance it on my own because I want it to stay true to its original vision.

It’s also been a challenge because I’ve had to figure out how I can be at two places at once. At the beginning of course I’ll be at Revival. Andreas Muller has worked for me for almost 10 years now. I’m not worried at all about what he can do. Plus, these recipes have been tested and retested. It’s not like at Gunshow where it requires constant messing with.

Is the meaning of the name Revival as obvious as it seems?
Revival is located on Church Street in Decatur so it’s a bit of a double entendre. It’s about reviving these old recipes. Both sides of my family are very traditional, Southern people. I grew up going to church revivals and you always had great food at those places.

When you opened Gunshow, you talked a lot about how you wanted a place where your dad could be comfortable. What does he think of Revival?
None of my family has seen it yet. They’re coming on Monday. I have a lot of family heirlooms and old photography in there, and eight of my grandmother’s paintings. There’s a collage of photos of my grandmothers over the mantle in the dining room. I created this for my two grandmothers who always supported me in not going the traditional route professionally.

My father’s mother, my granny, is still alive and well and the best cook I’ve ever known. She’ll be here Monday. My other grandmother passed away 10 years ago. This was the restaurant I intended to build for her. It was her home that we went to every Sunday and had this type of dinner. It’s her home that we modeled the design after. She advocated that the family has to eat together. I hate that its 10 years too late.

What’s the latest on your barbecue project, Terminus City BBQ? Have you found a location?
It’s very active. It’ll be the next thing that gets announced. I can’t say much more yet, but it’s a 2017 project.

Sample menu

Hors d’oeuvres

  • Sliced local tomatoes with cucumbers and sweet onion
  • Toasted deviled ham tea sandwiches
  • Local kale salad with old-fashioned boiled dressing
  • Revival relish tray
  • Old-fashioned skillet-fried green tomatoes

Entrées

  • Chicken-fried prime beef round steak with skillet pan gravy
  • Revival fried chicken
  • Grassfed beef and pork meatloaf wrapped in bacon
  • Creamed Georgia white shrimp and Savannah red rice
  • Wood-grilled Berkshire pork steak
  • Spiced Mississippi catfish in low country tomato gravy
  • Wood-grilled South Carolina quail glazed with roasted honey and garlic
  • Mushroom-stuffed cabbage dumpling with spicy roasted tomato sauce

Trimmings

  • Fatback-fried silver queen corn
  • Hickory-smoked local greens
  • Old-fashioned creamed potatoes
  • Fresh field peas and snaps in sweet cream butter and dill
  • Green cabbage with confit ham
  • Revival mac n’ cheese
  • Pan-roasted mushrooms with celery and lemon
  • Local zucchini fritters

Desserts

  • Geneva’s toasted vanilla pound cake with peach fool
  • Butterscotch trifle with butter pecan cream
  • Lemon icebox pie
  • Rustic peach and nectarine tart à la mode
  • Awesome chocolate cake

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