BBQ "First Look"

CK Pearl


category: Essex BBQ, Massachusetts BBQ

112 Main Street
Essex, MA 01929
(978) 890-7378



Other Opinion

Review Date: 02/14/16

Visit Date: 01/30/16





The Joint


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


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.







The Visit


A frequent barbecue accomplice joined me for a Saturday lunch.







The Appetizers


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.







The Meats


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.







The Sauces


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..







The Sides

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.







Other Opinion


Yelp reviews of CK Pearl

Zomato reviews of CK Pearl

Tabelog reviews of CK Pearl


Ck Pearl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato






















A riverside restaurant.


Bar and dining room all in one open space.


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Clam chowder.


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Smoked wings.


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Fried ribs.


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Fried ribs.


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Brisket sandwich.


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Brisket sandwich.


Ship theme.





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