Deep in the cold Norselands of the United States shines a warm Southern light. The chilly setting: Minnesota, host to this weekend’s Super Bowl. And the torchbearer? James Beard-nominated chef Thomas Boemer, who was raised in the Carolinas and now runs the wildly popular fried chicken joint Revival, with locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Come Sunday, his food stall in U.S. Bank Stadium will dish out Southern classics to eager football fans—crispy-skinned and juicy chicken sandwiches, hush puppies, and Lexington-red-sauce style barbecue pork belly.
“When I first tried my hand at cooking Southern food in Minnesota, I thought, ‘There is not a single person here who knows what a grit is’,” says the chef with a laugh. He introduced Minnesotans to Southern fare at Corner Table, the fine dining restaurant he took over six years ago. “And then, we’d sell out in an hour. I had no idea anyone would have that interest.” When he went full-tilt Southern for Revival, which he opened in 2015 in Minneapolis with a second location a year later in St. Paul, lines were—and still are—out the door for his buttermilk-dipped fried chicken.
Born in Minneapolis, Boemer and his family moved to Lexington, North Carolina, when he was five. One of his best friends there invited him to church and then Sunday supper at his grandmother’s west of Lexington where the piedmont rolled into the Blue Ridge foothills. “I remember the drive there, and then meeting his grandma, who had spent all morning cooking for us,” he says. “Biscuits and chocolate gravy, and a whole table of food.”
A few years later, when Boemer’s family again moved, this time to Simpsonville, South Carolina, he continued his education in Southern staples—hush puppies were always his favorite, and he learned just how opinion-stirring pimento cheese can be. He began cooking at restaurants as a teenager, a vocation he pursued after moving back to Minneapolis at age nineteen, where he rose through the ranks of the city’s kitchens. “As you get older, you start to reach for those stories and those flavors you grew up with,” he says. Taking stock of the local food scene, he had a striking realization: “You could not find, in all of Minnesota, a single piece of fried chicken worth eating,” he says. By the time he was ready to open Revival, he knew his mission.
“All I was doing was chasing the memories in my head. As someone who moved around a lot, I was reaching for some identity of home, something honest,” he says. “We made good fried chicken a centerpiece with all the sides—greens, black eyed peas, slaw, and biscuits. I never expected it to connect with people the way it did.”
Just in time for Super Bowl party planning, chef Boemer shared his recipe for the pimento cheese nuggets he fries up for special events at Revival. “These are my favorite for watching a game or having a party,” he says. “I fell in love with how pimento cheese melts when it’s warm. Find your favorite hot pepper jelly and set this out for finger food.”