If you've driven past Revival Market at night lately and wondered why the parking lot has been so packed—after all, the Heights market-cum-cafe used to close at 7 p.m. each evening—here's your answer: dinner service has begun in earnest.
When it first opened March 2011, it was a grocery store first and foremost, specializing in the kind of all-natural meat and in-house charcuterie that was—and still is—rare in Houston. Chef Ryan Pera applied the skills he polished at restaurants such as The Grove and *17 to an ever-changing rotation of hams, salumi and all variety of cured meats, while co-owner Morgan Weber made sure Revival was stocked with pork from his own farm in Yoakam as well as fresh produce and dairy products from local purveyors. The prepared foods section of the store was small then, as was the menu of daily sandwiches and soups, which could be ordered at the coffee bar in one corner of the market.
"I still want to use my training as a chef," Pera told me four years ago, on the eve of Revival Market opening to the public, "but I want to make this food and these sandwiches with really quality ingredients." Pera succeeded at this task perhaps beyond even his own expectations, as the food at Revival Market quickly became as much of a draw as the groceries themselves. It's been so well-received, in fact, that Revival recently decided to tightly shrink its grocery footprint, add a lot more seating and focus on transforming itself into a restaurant first and foremost, with full-service breakfast, lunch and dinner daily except for Mondays, when it still closes at 5 p.m.
Referring to Revival these days a "Gulf Coast preservation kitchen," Pera and chef de cuisine Vincent Huynh have created a tightly edited dinner menu with five sections: appetizers, charcuterie, lighter entrees like salads and seafood plates, heavier mains like steak and roasted chicken and desserts. In keeping with Pera's vision four years ago, the dishes incorporate as many quality local products as possible—44 Farms beef, sustainable Gulf by-catch from fishmonger PJ Stoops—and featuring plenty of Revival's signature cured meats, now made by head butcher Andrew Vaserfirer.
"Ryan and Vincent have done us very proud," said Weber this past Tuesday at a media dinner that provided plenty of samples of the duo's work. Favorites included chicharrones ($5) made from the skin of the heritage hogs Vaserfirer butchers—a natural fit at a Gulf Coast charcuterie shop, when you think about it—warm buttermilk biscuits rich ($6) with freshly rendered lard and a plate of crunchy pickled carrots ($6) served with peanut-jalapeño hummus that was much milder than expected.
The composed dishes will likely be even more of a draw in the evenings, starting with a one that looks like ceviche, with thin curls of cucumber and bright chunks of cantaloupe threading across the plate, before you realize the fish on the plate is smoked ($10). And while most people at the media dinner went crazy for the big, bullish 20-ounce strip loin ($45) with kimchi and miso butter, it was the roasted half-chicken ($16) with crispy, buttery skin that I thought was Revival's most successful dish of the night, reminding me of the exceptional rotisserie chicken that Pera used to turn out at The Grove years ago. Revival has the chops to make even the simplest dishes extraordinary, and this has always been its greatest strength.
The same elevated sandwiches and soups that first drew diners to Revival will still be on offer at lunch, and those wishing to grab and go can still order from the newly relocated coffee counter at both breakfast and lunch, though sitting down and allowing a server to take care of you is now emphasized if you have the time. Full service and a smaller grocery footprint isn't the only change here, however; Revival is in the process of acquiring its liquor license, and will soon serve a selection of wine, beer and cocktails (though it's BYOB for now). "We're going in a very different direction than Coltivare or 8-Row Flint," says Weber, referring to his and Pera's sister restaurant down White Oak and the team's latest project, respectively.
Though 8-Row Flint is still in the works at the corner of Yale and 11th, Coltivare is busier than ever. With Revival's new dinner menu, one wonders if at least some of that traffic for Coltivare will be diverted here—after all, much of the food that makes its way to Coltivare is created at Revival first, and much of the produce grown at Coltivare is used at Revival. Diners at Revival just won't find the same pastas and pizzas as at the more Italian-influenced Coltivare, though one noodle-based dish has made its way onto the menu here: a tremendously good beef stroganoff ($16) masquerading as the far more elegantly if esoterically named "44 Farms sliced sirloin, hand cut noodles, mushrooms, sour cream, chives."
And for those folks for whom plated dishes and full-service dinners hold less charm than farm-fresh vegetables and local yard eggs, a silver lining: most of the groceries at Revival Market remain, including the extensive meat selection housed in glassy butcher cases that have remained fully intact and in their original position. The groceries are simply stored more efficiently, including the produce. You may not see it when you come in, but all you have to do is head to the check-out counter and check out the day's list of fresh fruit and vegetables; anything you want, they'll grab for you from the back. This is how grocery stores used to work before Piggly Wiggly came along a century ago, after all, which is somehow entirely fitting here at Revival, which has sought to preserve foodways of all kinds since opening. And while you're there waiting for your groceries, you may just find yourself staying for dinner.