If you live in or around Tampa and you’re willing to take a drive for good food, then I suggest a drive to Pearl in the Grove. Take interstate 75 north to exit 285 and head towards Dade City. After some time on twisty, rural roads (I suggest using a GPS) you will come upon a small house. This is Pearl in the Grove. Parking can be a bit difficult during the dinner rush, but once you’re inside, it’s like walking into your favorite relative’s house. The place is small with about twelve tables and reservations are recommended, especially on the weekends. The staff always greets you with a smile. Chef and owner, Curtis Beebe, finds time between cooking to greet all his patrons. I’ve been to Pearl in the Grove about seven times with my wife. Mr. Beebe and his wife, Rebecca, always makes sure to ask us how we are doing and welcomes us back.
What to Expect at Pearl in the Grove
The food is southern, slow food movement. The Pearl uses fresh ingredients from local farmers. Because of this, some menu items change through out the seasons, like the vegetables used to accompany a dish. Don’t expect your food to come out right away. The place is homey with one kitchen and typically two chefs, so you know your food is fresh. Nothing is prepackaged at some Olive Garden type factory to be reheated. I will say that the food is worth the wait.
Before the Meal
Like most restaurants, Pearl in the Grove does bring you bread to start your meal. But, the Pearl does bring you something else before your meal that most places do not have and that’s boiled peanuts. These peanuts are very tasty. May be a little to salty for some people, but very good. Start with their Underground Salad. This salad has locally grown herbs, greens, and goat cheese. Typically, it is topped with a kumquat and Vidalia onion vinaigrette and kumquats. However, since I went to Pearl in July and it’s not the season for kumquats, my underground salad was topped with watermelon. Having herbs and greens and not lettuce, some might find the salad to be bitter. Regardless of which fruit is in your Underground Salad, it’s one that is not to be missed.
The Main Course at Pearl in the Grove
During this visit to Pearl in the Grove, I ordered one of the Pearl’s signature dishes, Catfish and Grits. The dish has catfish beignets with house remoulade, a smoked tomato grits cake, and seasonal vegetables. The beignets are fried in a batter containing onions and herbs. If you’re not a fan of catfish, you may not like the beignets, but the beignets can be ordered alone as an appetizer, so give them a try. I enjoyed them. The grits cake is wonderful. I am a fan of grits and I can understand people not liking them, whether it be taste or consistency. However, these grits are formed into a non-runny, tightly formed cake. The cake is flavorful with the taste of smoked tomatoes. The vegetables are cooked and seasoned well. Whether you like the vegetables that are currently in season, is entirely up to your palate.
My wife had the Gigot Steak. She and I typically share our meals, so I was able to sample this dish. This lamb steak is topped with a mint and basil pesto and served with risotto and vegetables. The Gigot was tender and flavorful. The risotto is the best part of this dish. I‘ve had it with other dishes and it‘s good enough to be served by itself. As stated previously, this wasn’t my first visit to Pearl in the Grove. I’ve had their pork chop, pork belly, and fried chicken. All of which are good choices. Desserts change frequently but rarely disappoint. Nothing is overpriced, with the most expensive items (the steaks) costing $24.
The Pearl is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and is open from Wednesday through Saturday for dinner at five o’clock. The Pearl is open on Sundays from noon to three and is family style. This means you sit with other parties and eat whatever the chef is cooking for the day. If you’re not in the mood to hang out and dine with strangers, then don’t go to the Pearl on Sundays. You’ll never know what is being served on Sundays, but I’ve been twice and the food is just as good as the food on the menu. The Pearl won’t disappoint and is worth the drive. Visit their website (www.pearlinthegrove.com) for more information.