Like everything in the restaurant world, name trends come and go. Recently, we have seen a lot of the two-word noun variation, with an ampersand.
Downtown’s Revel & Roost follows this convention, but with a twist: It’s actually two distinct restaurants, albeit interconnected in both space and menu. But Revel, ground level and open to the sidewalk, is casual, essentially a large bar with sidewalk seating, high-top tables and a few big booths inside, while its upstairs — and upmarket — sibling, Roost, offers fine dining. We decided to revel in informality.
Revel has sumptuous finishes including Lucite-backed chairs and booths upholstered with soft and supple leather. The kitchen was wide open at one end of the room. A pair of old silent movies were projected on the wall, while above the bar, a couple of TVs carried the game.
Revel & Roost bills itself as “refined rustic cuisine,” which sounds like an oxymoron, but at least portended something a step away from the now-standard gastropub formula. (There is no mac-and-cheese, and bacon appears only, rather sensibly, on a cheeseburger.) Instead of remade comfort-food clichés, we detected a distinctly Southern theme, with shrimp and grits, pulled pork, and more. But the menu also went well beyond that and seemed to treat traditional dishes as starting points, not goals.
Although the menu was literally centered on seven sandwiches that run the gamut from beer-battered cod to braised beef with taleggio, the starters — available in smaller portions or as larger, “communal” ones — were more like mini-entrees than typical bar food. Revel also offers five actual entrees, but in the interest of sampling widely, we made meals from starters, sandwiches, salads and pizza.
Of the latter, Revel offers both New York and Chicago styles (although the latter is, according to our server, more of a deep-dish, thick-crust pie). The New York also veered from the conventions of its ascribed hometown, being closer to ultra-thin Neapolitan than the crisper, famously foldable slice. While toasty and crisp at the perimeter, Revel’s crust was soggy and floppy in the center, weighed down by a greasy cheese topping reminiscent of a corner pizzeria.
Shrimp gumbo was almost more like a velvety bisque than a chunky stew, its ingredients either finely diced or pulverized. This is not a criticism so much as an observation that this was not a traditional gumbo, but more a refinement of the concept. Housemade andouille lent it an agreeable kick.
Apple-smoked chicken panini on French bread with hot-pepper cheese and Granny Smith apple tasted mostly of its main ingredient, an herbal chicken salad. Visual inspection confirmed that a trace amount of cheese was present, along with paper-thin slices of apple, but the effect was solidly of a chicken-salad sandwich, albeit several cuts above picnic-grade.
The Revel Burger went over the top with bacon, braised short ribs and much, much more. But we chose simpler with the “plain” bacon-cheddar burger. It had a wholly satisfactory, beefy, juicy patty, with a generous four slices of housemade bacon — two of them crispy-black and two chewy-brown — on a sturdy brioche bun.
Mashed potatoes were nice and peppery, but flagrantly short of fat, missing the richness of much cream, savory butter or even tangy, low-fat buttermilk. Salt-and-pepper fries, on the other hand, were top-notch: shoestring-style, well-browned and perfectly seasoned.
Out first bite of the lobster fritters caused us to dub them “salt fritters,” but in subsequent bites the batter revealed itself as fluffy and flavorful, suggesting over-seasoned lobster meat might have been the culprit. Accompanying lemon-herb aioli was flawless, its tanginess evoking lobster’s natural partner, drawn butter with lemon.
In Revel’s take on chicken and waffles, quail and waffles, three semi-boneless half-birds were thickly coated with an outstanding, intensely flavored crust that might overwhelm white-meat chicken, but worked wonderfully with the dark, faintly gamy meat of the quail. Cheddar waffles were light and crispy. Maple-raspberry hot sauce was, frankly, kind of weird, the dominant berry flavor incongruous with the fairly subtle heat. However, the pickled vegetables on top, a curious array of broccolini, asparagus, baby carrot, turnip and boiled onion, played a less certain role. They were pungent with vinegar, but lacked much other pickled flavor.
More than a bar or another rubber-stamped impression of a hipster gastropub, Revel is a worthy destination for a casual dinner Downtown.