Review Date: 02/14/16
Visit Date: 01/30/16
In the heart of fried clam country, right on the water, is CK Pearl, a modern American restaurant where barbecue is a recent sideline. The interior is clean, with a small bar to one side and spacious seating with many tables affording a view of the water. To the left of the building is a portable smoker that gets good use; to the right is a deck with outdoor seating in warmer months. There's plenty of free parking across the street.
The menu is a mix of meat, seafood and barbecue. On my winter visit, fried clams weren't offered, but they did have a clam chowder.
A frequent barbecue accomplice joined me for a Saturday lunch.
Clam Chowder: Tried as a cup, the chowder truly shined in the presentation department,
resting a few fried clam strips and a pork belly nugget on the surface.
But that's not faint praise, because this chowder impressed on all
fronts. The base had the perfect thickness, avoiding the watery Rhode
Island version as well as the often over-floured New England version by
playing it right down the middle and winding up effortlessly creamy.
Potatoes are a mainstay of clam chowder, but here, they were ramped down
in quantity but upgraded to a roasted version with better crispness to
the texture. Though finely chopped, the clams were hardly scarce,
supplying a handful with every spoonful and a strong clam flavor
throughout. Spoiler alert: it was the best item of the day and one of
the best examples I've ever had.
Wings: Eight pieces evenly distributed between wingettes and drumettes, as well
as between Buffalo and barbecue sauce (our choice), were billed as smoked and tasted
smoked without being noticeably smoky. The surfaces had a little
firmness to them while falling short of crispy; the inner meat had good
tenderness and a little moistness. Flavor on both sauces was pleasant,
with the Buffalo fairly close to standard and the barbecue ketchupy
without being annoyingly so. Overall, some decent wings with no
real flaws but nothing to really distinguish them.
Fried Ribs: Four ribs graced the plate, attractively criss-crossed into a single
pile. Since these were fried and seemingly available only at lunch, I'm
assuming that these ribs had a greater chance of being a reheats than
usual, with the frying aspect the means to freshen them up. For the most
part that succeeded, adding some crunchiness to a surface that already
had some char. The tradeoff, as with wings, is that the further the
pendulum swings toward crisp, the further it swings away from inner
tenderness, and the pendulum swung pretty far here. That's where the
sauce came in handy, adding some moisture where none was within the
actual rib, while adding some tomatoey sweetness that was never
overwrought. Among the meats, smokiness was at its highest here, though still fairly light; the char aspect came through stronger.
Brisket Sandwich: I'm not going to bitch about the construction, but I'm going to mention as a public service that this sandwich adds melted cheese, which some might consider blasphemous (though adding cheese to pork is arguably more blasphemous, in more ways than one). It made for a flavorful blanket for a bunch of darkened cubes with grayer cross sections. The meat had a very light smokiness with not too much rub; its main assets were char and tenderness. I found the flavor/texture tandem more than a little pot roasty, but within the context of the sandwich with some added cheese and some barbecue sauce (the same ketchupy blend that topped the wings), it wasn't a huge deal. Not my thing, but not bad.
There's no sauce on the tables and no extra that they offer or bring, but the meats that were sauced had enough that they didn't need any more..
Fries: These were very interesting. Thin cut, semi crisp and lighter (in density) than any I've ever had.
Cole slaw: A homemade rendition served on a bed of lettuce had the typical cabbage and carrot in a rich and strongly mayoey condiment.
The Bottom Line
There's some barbecue promise here that may have a better chance to shine at night, since the menus are different for lunch and dinner. The clam chowder alone is worth the trip, so I'll be back to test that barbecue theory with a built-in fail-safe.
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