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Pearlz Oyster Bar

So, we have to give credit for trying this restaurant to Beth’s parents, M.T. & Sue. A friend recently told them about a restaurant in south Charlotte that served Lowcountry food. That got our attention.

The South Carolina/Georgia Lowcountry is known for many things like liveoaks draped with Spanish moss, sweetgrass baskets made by generations of women dating back to the days of slavery, abundant produce stands on the sides of highways, and its good food. Dishes like she crab soup, Frogmore stew, hoppin’ john, and shrimp & grits are some of the better known.

Shrimp & grits has been one of our favorites since we first started going to Charleston almost 30 years ago. History traces this dish back to the Gullah Geeche people who were descendants of the West African slaves. For them seafood, was a cheap food source and was sometimes served over homily - the predecessor to grits. Most commonly eaten for breakfast and not well known outside the Lowcountry, that changed in the 80’s. In 1982, Bill Neal created his own interpretation of shrimp & grits and put it on the menu of his Chapel Hill restaurant, Crook’s Corner. Then in 1985, Craig Claiborne, with the New York Times, visited the restaurant and published Neal’s recipe which made the dish’s popularity surge. Now, you can find shrimp & grits in restaurants all over the U.S. Beth knows that if there is shrimp & grits on the menu of almost any restaurant, I will be hard-pressed to order anything else.

So a couple of weeks ago, we went with M.T. & Sue to the Stonecrest Shopping Center off Rea Road to try Pearlz. This is the fourth location with the other three in the Charleston, SC area. The best-known of those is the one in the heart of Old Charleston on East Bay Street.

Walking into the restaurant, it had a pleasant dressy casual feel with its high ceilings and ample natural light. There’s also a nice outdoor seating area as an alternative to eating inside when the weather is nice. For this evening, Renee was our server. She was very pleasant, responsive, and knowledgeable about the menu which is always helpful when trying a place for the first time.

We started off by ordering a few appetizers: fried shrimp, fried oysters, and tuna poke served with crackers. Fried shrimp would not be a typical choice for us to order in Charlotte as it can taste terrible if the seasoning or batter is too heavy. But this was almost as good as the fried shrimp that we have eaten for years at the Shrimp Shack on St. Helena Island, SC. The fried oysters were equally as good as was the tuna poke which was tossed with mangos, cucumber, and a very light sauce.

For our entrees, Beth ordered the mahi tacos which she said were excellent. Sue had the New England lobster roll. The lobster was plentiful and excellent but the bun was not toasted so it got very soggy. M.T. ordered a dozen Blue Point oysters on the half shell which was one three varieties that change daily. He said that they were delicious and very pleased with his choice. Not surprisingly, I ordered the shrimp & grits . I was concerned as to whether I would like since this was not the classic recipe for the iconic dish, but I had to try it. Unfortunately, it was disappointing. The grits had too much cheese, onion, and bell pepper for my taste and the gravy was more Cajun than Lowcountry. I suspect that this was the chef’s intent, and others may like it. But I prefer the classic. It’s one of those dishes, that in my opinion, should not be tinkered with.

Would we go back? Probably, yes. But it will not make our short list of places that we go to regularly. Plus, we’ve still got LOTS of places in town to try for the first time. However, it’s worth a try if you find yourself in South Charlotte and you want to try their eclectic menu.


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