The Pearl (Facebook / @CMRColumbus)
641 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
Open daily at 4p (open for brunch Sat & Sun starting at 10a)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y (for brunch)
Visited: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.
With the opening of a Cameron Mitchell restaurant, there’s always a lot of buzz in the food community, which puts a lot of pressure on the eatery, especially when the newest addition to the bunch is located in the center of Short North. Cameron Mitchell and his Columbus-based restaurant group maintain a small empire of restaurants across the country. He tends to offer restaurant concepts that are usually well-defined and well-patronized. These include local spots like Columbus Fish Market, Cap City Fine Diner, M at Miranova, Marcella’s, Martini, Molly Woo’s, and more. So it’s no surprise that The Pearl opened up to much ado this past February, with everyone weighing in on the menu, decor, service, and the broader trend of the gastropub.
Part of the hubbub stemmed from the fact that The Pearl is the first new concept from Cameron Mitchell in about five years. It’s located in the space once occupied by the Burgundy Room, near the southern end of Short North. The space has been completely renovated and flipped around, with the bar moved to the opposite side of the restaurant. The decor combines a lot of natural wood accents (like a pub) with some highlights of green subway tile and leather seating.
The bar area features a row of cab tables plus bar seating. Chalkboard menus list the latest beers on draft.
Further back into the space, two dining rooms provide more table seating.
Because of me and my focus, you know that Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I visited The Pearl specifically seeking out their brunch. We were invited by the Cameron Mitchell group to check it out, so we gladly found some babysitting and actually sat and enjoyed a meal together, complete with grown-up conversation and without little hands picking the food off our plate. I had no idea a meal could be so relaxing! We started the relaxation with a Bloody Mary. The Pearl offers two types – mild and spicy. This is the mild version, but we sampled the spicy as well, and actually preferred that. I like a Bloody Mary with a little bite at the back of the throat. The drink is garnished with pickles (brined in-house) and pepperoni (also cured in-house), and it’s served with the trendy companion of a 7 oz bottle of Miller High Life. Our server said some folks drink the two separately, using the beer as a palate cleanser, while some add the beer to the Bloody Mary for a little bit of effervescence. We kept them separate.
Our server Jesse was more than willing to talk us through the menu. From the get-go it was clear that he knew and loved the brunch, going above and beyond to suggest dishes and pairings. Some dishes in the top section of the brunch menu – Snacks – may require a little explanation. Tavern Fries and Good Old Fashioned Deviled Eggs are straightforward enough, but do you know what a Rollmop is? Or Devils on Horseback? Because I certainly didn’t. On Jessie’s suggestion we tried the rollmop first. A rollmop is a Scandinavian dish featuring a rolled pickled herring. The Pearl’s version is loosely rolled and covered in a sweet cream. The herring was tender and delicious, and while the cream was a little overwhelmingly sweet for my taste, it still complemented the salty pickle of the fish. We ordered the rollmop with the Pot-O-Pickles (in the background), a bowl of pickles prepared in-house: sweet, dill, mustard, curry, and hot. Nice combination with the sweet pickled herring.
We enjoyed the rollmop and the pickles, but loved the Devils on Horseback even more. And what’s not to love? Dates wrapped in bacon. They’re soft and easy to cut, with the sticky sweetness of dates offset by a not-too-salty house-cured bacon. If our brunch dishes hadn’t continued arriving at such a quick pace, we would have ordered another plate of these.
The Pearl is clearly all about presentation. While we were finishing the rollmops and devils on horseback, a skillet of jalepeno spoon bread arrived, all decked out on a branded wooden board (which flips over for serving deviled eggs) and served with an adorable dollop of sweet butter and honey. The spoon bread was moist without being mushy, although the jalapeno spice doesn’t stand out too much from the toasted corn bread.
Part of The Pearl’s name and branding includes the oyster bar, so we knew – well before we visited – that we were going to have oysters. Mrs. Bfast w/Nick in particular loves oysters on the half shell. The menu lists three of them for $8, although our server pointed out that you can order any amount. We opted for two east coast and two west coast oysters, from Spinney Creek and Dabob, respectively. It’s funny that you can definitely taste the difference. The east coast in particular tasted more “familiar” to us, perhaps because we vacation more regularly on the Atlantic. The oysters are served with excellent house-made cocktail sauce and horseradish (made with a champagne vinaigrette).
Now for the actual entrees. For me, brunch is synonymous with an eggs benedict, so chose the Tavern Benny, which turns out to be more like sausage gravy and biscuits than poached eggs with hollandaise. To be clear, there are poached eggs involved here: they’re just topping biscuits, house-made sausage, and smothered in gravy.
It’s quite a dish: the gravy is very rich and not overly salted, which lets the eggs and the sausage patty stand out more.
The Mrs. ordered the short rib poutine, because uh, it’s short rib poutine. For those who don’t know it, poutine is a Canadian dish that’s simply fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy. Now, add some short rib and a couple poached eggs, and baby, you’ve got a brunch on. I preferred this over the tavern benny, mostly because of the short ribs and the gravy. Although the cheese curds certainly don’t hurt.
We finished the meal with a thin slice of brown sugar pie. It’s inspired by the Crack Pie at Momofuku Milk bar in NYC (although they can’t technically use the name), but there must be crack in this dish, too. It’s made with a crust of pressed oatmeal cookies, then filled with what is essentially a butter and brown sugar mixture and topped with a dollop of sweet cream. And it’s one of those dishes that I would eat endlessly if you kept putting slices in front of me.
Your bill is brought out tucked in an old book, and you’re encouraged to write a note about your meal. Our server said that they use older books, including having used a first edition Great Gatsby – yikes!
Opposite the bar-side of the restaurant is the oyster bar, with the menu above you…
…and cases of fresh oysters on ice below.
Next to that is the oyster preparation table.
In addition to curing their own meats and pickles, The Pearl barrel-ages or infuses many of their own spirits. You can see the work-in-progress on the shelves along the back walls.
I can’t speak to the lunch or dinner offerings, or whether the gastropub trend is played out already, but in terms of brunch, The Pearl well worth the visit, especially if you’re willing to let your server walk you through the menu. The menu incorporates the gastropub and oyster bar elements that define the restaurant, so it features a wide variety of dishes that you can’t get anywhere else in town.
(Disclosure: this meal was provided in part by the folks at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. Opinions are my own.)