TAMPA — Oysters, anyone?
The Pearl, a new nautical-themed gastropub from restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, debuts this week at Water Street Tampa. One of the burgeoning development’s most highly anticipated restaurants, The Pearl opens Tuesday at 823 Water St., following a brief soft-opening period over the weekend.
With a strong seafood selection and raw bar spread, an elevated tavern-inspired menu and a creative cocktail program, the new restaurant appears poised to be one of Water Street’s most talked-about spots.
Here’s everything to know before you go.
This isn’t Mitchell’s first foray into the Tampa market: The Columbus, Ohio-based restaurateur opened the since-shuttered Mitchell’s Fish Market at WestShore Plaza back in 2006. Ocean Prime, Mitchell’s high-end seafood restaurant at International Plaza, has become the group’s top-performing Ocean Prime in the country.
Mitchell, whose restaurant group now includes more than 43 restaurants across the country, said he doesn’t usually like opening new concepts within up-and-coming projects, preferring instead to go where the market has already established itself. But he made an exception for Water Street Tampa, the $3.5 billion development from Strategic Property Partners, which has seen several major restaurant openings over the last few months.
“Normally I’m not really excited about new developments,” Mitchell said. “You don’t really know how places are doing. (But) it just seemed like a natural fit for us. It’s no secret that Tampa is booming.”
The new Water Street addition marks the third location of The Pearl. (There are two others, including the flagship, in Columbus.) Mitchell described the restaurant’s approach as “polished casual dining,” with a gastropub theme.
“It’s where our chefs like to go out to eat very unique, very creative, very elevated pub food.”
To helm the new restaurant, Mitchell tapped executive chef Olivia Giesler, a longtime employee of the company who was most recently the sous chef at Tampa’s Ocean Prime.
Giesler, 38, first started as an apprentice at Mitchell’s Ocean Club in Ohio and quickly fell in love with the company and its workplace culture and mentoring program. When the first Pearl opened in Columbus 10 years ago, Giesler’s twin sister worked as a sous chef for the restaurant, and Giesler said returning now to helm the company’s third iteration of the concept feels a lot like coming full circle.
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Giesler described the restaurant as chef-driven with a menu that appears casual but features elevated twists and advanced kitchen technique throughout.
Cold-water oysters (three for $15) are a highlight, and a chalk menu features a nightly rotating selection of four different East and West Coast oysters. There’s also a selection of tavern snacks, including the Old Fashioned Deviled Eggs ($9), Tavern Fries ($8) and Devils on Horseback ($10) — dates stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, served with a chimichurri sauce.
For something slightly larger, a selection of starters includes shareable plates like a Jalapeno Corn Spoon Bread ($13), served with whipped butter and local honey; the Teriyaki Octopus ($21), with roasted sesame pineapple puree, spicy mustard and hearts of palm; and the Thai Curry Mussels ($18), served in a coconut and sake broth flavored with basil and lime.
From there, the menu moves on to a selection of salads and sandwiches, which include a Roasted Chicken Apple Salad ($18), featuring candied walnuts, aged goat cheese, honey and grain mustard; the Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($16), which comes with a Napa cabbage slaw, pickled onions and a red chili aioli; and the house Pub Burger ($18), made with a blend of chuck and brisket that gets topped with Cambozola cheese and served with tomato jam and fries.
Entrees include a list of large, hearty-leaning plates, from the Southern Fried Chicken ($30), served with a cinnamon sticky bun, creamed corn and smoked bacon ($30), to the Hanger Steak served with kimchi fried rice and a fried egg ($42) and the Shrimp and Grits, which features kielbasa sausage, poblano peppers and Gouda cheese grits ($31).
For dessert, pie is the name of the game: The menu always features the restaurant’s signature Brown Sugar Pie and will also include a rotating selection of pies, including at least one gluten-free option and a fruit-based version.
Cocktails feel as much a part of the new restaurant as the food menu, with an emphasis on (but not limited to) brown spirits and several creative spins on the classics, all made with house-infused simple syrups. Among the highlights: the Bourbon. Bacon. Beautiful. ($16), which features fat-washed Larceny bourbon, grapefruit shrub, maple and candied bacon; and the Gin Thyme ($12), made with Botanist gin, Grand Poppy amaro and fresh lime juice.
The drinks program also features a decent selection of wines by the glass and bottle and a rotating draft program featuring several local beers as well as a few domestic and international options.
The restaurant, which sits on the corner of Channelside Drive and Water Street, sports a distinct nautical vibe, with antique maritime decor and seafaring knickknacks throughout. The space is also deceptively large, featuring multiple rooms, dining nooks and alcoves with seating for roughly 200 people inside and another 100 on the outside patio.
At the front of the restaurant, a long wood countertop bar leads to a white-tiled raw bar, which snakes into the main dining room where a blown-up map of Tampa Bay hangs above the restaurant’s open kitchen. The layout makes for a lively experience, so guests always feel like they’re part of the action.
“It makes it more challenging and exciting,” Giesler said. “I love it because then I can see the guests and interact, even if I am busy.”
If you go
The Pearl is open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, and for brunch and dinner 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
823 Water St., Suite C-100, Tampa. 813-709-7776. thepearlrestaurant.com.