The Pearl - Best New Restaurant

For the first six months, it was nearly impossible to get a reservation at Cameron Mitchell’s new Short North gastropub. Crowds were gathering at all hours of the night for The Pearl’s riff on American tavern food served alongside barrel-aged cocktails and punch bowls in an old-school setting.

Offering such an eclectic menu to please the masses was exactly the point, says executive chef Ryan Rupe, who took over the kitchen in August. Sure, it’s not often you find a raw oyster bar on the same menu as Southern Fried Chicken and Ricotta Dumplings, she admits. But somehow, these typically competing cuisines come together to create a seamless menu.

How exactly does it work? It’s simple, Rupe says—there’s a common underlying thread that brings it all together.

So what is it that ties the food together?

“It’s hard to describe how they all come together the way they do. The restaurant is based off of a chef’s mind, and all the different flavors we like to combine. The eclectic menu is exactly what chefs want to cook when having their friends over for dinner. For example, some of our favorites are our Devils on Horseback (bacon-wrapped dates) where you have sweet and salty flavors that come together in perfect harmony.

There’s everything ranging from Southern comfort-style foods, like fried chicken and cider braised greens served with a cinnamon sticky bun, to even Korean-inspired food like pineapple with kimchee fried rice. And even a daily catch using the freshest fish. We’re built to please the masses. And we’ve altered ourselves to accommodate that since opening.”

How have you changed the menu?

“By being a little more health-driven. [In October] we added dishes that were not based around pork and not fried—like a roasted chicken dish served with fresh quinoa salad and veggies. People were saying, ‘Your food is delicious, but I feel very guilty after leaving there.’ We’ve catered to those that want a healthier dining option.”

You came on as executive chef in August. Does the food at The Pearl match your style of cooking?

“It’s definitely my style of food. When I first came to The Pearl it was a no-brainer for me. I fell in love with the food. It’s very inspiring how all these dishes came together. It’s so different from anything else Columbus has to offer.”

A lot of travel and research went into creating the menu. Can you tell us about some of the influences?

“When we were creating the menu, we traveled all over the country and gathered flavors from other gastropubs and put them into our own. It was about finding those flavors that work together. For example, we were at a restaurant in New York and came across a great beet salad with a great flavor profile. But the way it was presented wasn’t how we’d do it, so we took some of those characteristics and turned it into The Pearl’s version. We get little ideas from all over the place.”

You said the menu is designed to change frequently. What’s the process for creating a new dish at a Cameron Mitchell restaurant?

“It all starts with an idea and sometimes guest feedback. With their comments, that will help inspire some of our new dishes. My sous chefs and I collaborate on new dishes and then present it to our regional [culinary director]. He’s very good at helping us make a dish we created even better. Once it’s approved, it goes to Cameron.”

January 2014
Beth Stallings
Columbus Monthly
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