By Anne McMullin
After months of speculation about the renovations taking place at the fire-damaged Golden Star Laundry and Cleaner at the corner of 23rd Avenue and California Street, neighbors were excited to see the restaurant Pearl 6101 open in May, 2018.
Restaurateur Jack Murphy had owned Pizzetta, the tiny eatery just a few doors down, for 10 years. When the owners of the laundry decided not to renovate after the fire, Murphy saw the high-ceiling, light-filled space as an exciting opportunity to provide a new dining experience in the neighborhood. He reached out to past and present Pizzetta employees to see who was on board. A total of eight employees bought in.
All of the co-owners are actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the restaurant, serving as chefs, bar manager, sous-chef, floor manager, etc. Most of the team grew up in San Francisco and many live nearby in the neighborhood.
The restaurant still has many of the architectural features of its original life as Shumate’s Pharmacy. Started by Dr. Shumate in 1900, there were a total of 30 corner pharmacies around San Francisco at the height of their popularity. The name “Shumate’s” is still spelled out in the tile floor at the original corner entrance.
Other nods to Pearl’s historic past, like the wrap-around balcony with its original banister and the blue and white worn tile floor, add to the vintage charm of the unpretentious, bright space. The new, L-shaped marble-topped bar that dominates the center of the space looks as if it has been there forever.
There are wood tables and leather booths, as well as seating at the bar, with a seating capacity for 58 diners. Pearl has an open kitchen in the back of the restaurant that features a large wood oven where they bake their popular sourdough bagels. Guests who want a ringside seat to the action can book the chef’s counter for two there.
The menu is “California inspired Mediterranean,” with an emphasis on fresh, simple ingredients. The two chefs at Pearl, Mel Lopez and Joyce Conway, met years ago working at Bix restaurant and Lopez says they are “best friends.”
She says they love to cook, “simple, good, flavorful” food, often incorporating the bold flavors of Mediterranean and Moroccan cuisine. When they go to the farmer’s market, they are always keeping a close eye on what is going in and out of season and changing at least one dish every week.
Lopez is proud of working as a chef, sharing that “only 7 percent of restaurants have female chef/owners.” While being a chef and owner is a lot of responsibility and hours can be very long, she said that the staff and co-owners “feel like family.”
John Heffron, another one of the owners, said, “It’s nice to spread the responsibility out and have people emotionally and financially invested … when issues arise, there are more people looking at the problem and more coming up with solutions.”
Reception to Pearl has been good; reservations for brunch and dinner are definitely recommended.
“We want to be a destination worth driving across the City for, but also a place where neighbors can come in,” Heffron said.
He says he loves it when several tables recognize each other from the neighborhood. Neighbor Colette Brooks said, “Every time I eat there I have something delicious; not one disappointment in all my visits!”
Pearl is open six day a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is closed on Mondays. Breakfast and lunch during the week are served 8 a.m.-2 p.m., and ordered at the counter. Dinner is served from 5-10 p.m. The weekday menu includes: specialty toasts; house-made banana bread; wood oven fired sourdough bagels with smoked salmon, capers and pickled onions; several egg dishes; and a chicory Caesar salad with crispy prosciutto.
The weekend brunch menu includes: “eggs in Purgatory,” with lamb sausagep spicy tomatoes and rosemary polenta; Dungeness crab eggs benedict; a fried egg and bacon sandwich; and Baby Dutch pancakes with house-made jam and whipped cream.
Some of the current dishes on the dinner menu include: roasted cauliflower with tahini hummus and almonds; white Bolognese pasta; grilled salmon with Blue Lake beans; Kobe steak with chard, turnips and mushrooms; and chicken Milanese with mashed potatoes and olive-caper tapenade. Pearl also serves a fixed price family supper for four that changes regularly.
The bar menu features a lot of flavors that pair well with Mediterranean food, including a good selection of Sherry and Vermouth.
“I love having a small local restaurant with excellent food and a modern cocktail menu. Whenever we have out of town guests, Pearl is our new go-to restaurant!” shared diner David Harrison.
Pearl is located at 6101 California St., at 23rd Avenue. Phone: (415) 592-9777. For menus and more information, visit: http://www.pearl6101.com.