When Joe's Crab Shack closed its downtown location in 2006, Pearl's Oyster House on South Main quickly stepped in to fill the void.
But, as new manager and chef KC Lambert tells it, service and quality slowly declined over time. Loyal patrons visited less and less. Lambert, who joined the restaurant last summer, is on a mission to restore Pearl's status as a quality seafood and Creole restaurant on South Main.
"A lot of people kept coming in, hoping it would get better, and it just didn't," Lambert says. "We're trying to take it back where it needs to be. Consistency, great service every time, no exceptions, a great product at a very fair price, and showing some loyalty to our customers."
Lambert brings to Pearl's a career of hotel and resort experience that he has already used to book more banquets and dinners in the downstairs event space — which comes with its own separate bathrooms, pool tables, and a full bar. He's also revamped the menu, refining their seafood options.
"We're a full-on seafood restaurant now," he says. "It's not just oysters, shrimp, and crab legs. It's fresh fish. We have corvina, snapper, grouper, tuna, swordfish, halibut. Whatever's being caught."
Pearl's has a Sunday brunch now, complete with seafood twists on brunch staples, like a blackened catfish Benedict, a chargrilled-oyster omelet, and crab cakes topped with a poached egg and Creole hollandaise.
A new lunch menu with lower prices and additions like the vegetarian po'boy (marinated grilled zucchini, squash, peppers, and onions served on a hoagie) are other ways Lambert hopes to lure former fans and new faces to Pearl's.
"It's about making portion sizes meet fair price points," Lambert says.
Lunch prices range from $5.99 to $9.99, and dinner from $7.99 to $17.99.
Longtime patrons shouldn't worry about missing their favorites. Lambert isn't touching classics like the chargrilled oysters, doused with garlic chipotle butter, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and set ablaze on the open grill behind the bar.
"I just focus a lot on cooking techniques," Lambert says. "Searing correctly, sauteeing correctly, grilling correctly, baking correctly. I think that's what's made the difference in our food in the last few months. We really focus on quality products cooked with the proper techniques."
Pearl's Oyster House, 299 S. Main (522-9070)
Come this May, if you drive from 936 Florida Street to 51 South Main, you'll experience a bit of DejaVu.
Cajun/Creole restaurant DejaVu is expanding, maintaining its original location on Florida Street and opening a second spot next door to Flight in the heart of downtown. The target date for opening this second restaurant is May 1st.
"We needed a larger location, and we wanted to have more visibility in the area," owner and chef Gary Williams says.
They'll have a full bar and the same Creole soul menu — including plenty of vegetarian and vegan options — that fans are accustomed to at the Florida Street location. But Williams says they will also have space to expand their offerings, adding items like beignets and coffee and chicory.
"We're going to be more visible, get more foot traffic," Williams says. "And we're going to bring the same great taste we're doing here to downtown."
DejaVu, 936 Florida (942-1400)