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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pearlz - Slurp Down Those Oysters in Charleston South Carolina

Pearlz Oyster Bar, Charleston, South Carolina...but wait a sec, let’s take a moment to suck in some historic salty air and remember the past...

Charleston’s cobblestone streets have carried the weight of leather soles and horses’ hooves for hundreds of years. The vast port and shoreline has sheltered merchant ships and seen the Pirate’s Jolly Roger. English soldiers and sailors, Confederates, Union soldiers and sailors, and a host of others left their mark. Charleston started as the heart of an English colony and grew to become a center of culture and agriculture in the newly founded United States.  History.  Culture. Food on a grand scale.  What the hell more do you want?

Most people know Charleston as the starting place for the Civil War, or the War of Northern Aggression, as Charlestonians choose to call it. 

Here’s something from an earlier conflict that you may not know.  Although most of the Revolutionary War battles we learn about in history class took place in New England, in sheer numbers, more Revolutionary War battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other state.   It was a long war, 1775 to 1783 and Charleston was smack in the center.

Enough digression.  What’s really important?  Seafood in general, and oysters in particular!  Lots of places to dine on fresh mollusks.  Every corner, every road has a restaurant serving fresh seafood, and the historic downtown area is crammed with ‘em.  Deciding is a challenge.  Fortunately for you, I have faced that challenge victoriously!  

Pearlz is the correct answer.  There are three locations: downtown, West Ashley, and two hours north in the state capital, Columbia.  I wandered into Pearlz on West Ashley and never bothered to try the other two.

An oyster bar is supposed to be dimly lit, with shadows on the walls, fresher than fresh seafood, a New Orleans smell and feel, and lots of style.  I don’t mean style as in Vogue and GQ.  I’m talking about muted colors, tile floors, and people wearing anything from jeans and worn t-shirts to coats and ties. At Pearlz feel free to discuss your glass of remarkable Chardonnay with the stranger on the stool next to you.  Its one of those American melting pots where everyone is welcome and nobody feels out of place.

Cold beer?  You bet.  Lots of it, including several Pearlz labeled brews on tap.  I usually choose the amber variety.  You want good taste, but not too strong a flavor when you’ve sliding oysters down your throat.  Not feeling the beer urge?  Huge wine selection.  Fab martinis.

Let’s move on to the basics.  So, for the first timers, do you chew raw oysters or just let ‘em slide down your throat?  Chew ‘em, for goodness sakes!  What the hell are you, a barbarian?

Sauce or no sauce?  The real aficionados go the naked route, but I prefer a squeeze of lemon and just a tad bit of red sauce, spiced with horseradish.

Pearlz offers a wide selection of oysters, coming all the way from Canada and the Gulf.    All are fresh, plump and delicious, with just a bare bite of the briny. Is there a difference in flavor?  Yes, there is, but prices vary widely.  I go for the cheapest because they’re wonderful and affordable.  Can’t be because I’m just cheap. Nah...

Even if you’re not in the mood for raw oysters (I offer condolences and hope you feel better) there are dozens of ways to enjoy both oysters and seafood and steak and hamburgers at Pearlz.  The fried shrimp tacos simply amaze! The shrimp are fired in a light batter and served over seasoned lettuce in a flour tortilla. The blackened mahi is divine.  Crusty outside.  Juicy within.

Pearlz also makes it’s own potato chips, so wonderfully crisp and tasty they should grace every table.  No exceptions, especially if you’re ‘lack-of-taste’ intolerant, as I am.

When it comes to restaurants, Charleston rivals New Orleans and is catching up fast.  And, at the end of a trying day of plodding the cobblestones, clopping around on a carriage ride, and gaping at historic Charleston’s churches, plantations, and such, you need a place to cast off the travelers’ blues and unwind.  

You’ve found it! Park your ride.  Slip into dark, air-conditioned comfort. Grab a table, booth, or jump on a bar stool.  You’re primed and ready.  “Barkeep, how about a frosty lager and a dozen on the half shell?” Relax. Dig into fresh seafood. 

Hey, this is Pearlz on West Ashley!  Cheers!

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