It’s usually the co-Bitch who hosts the raucous brunch parties for groups of ten or more, while my brunches tend to be more intimate catch-up sessions among a few girlfriends. Such was not the case on a Sunday in early February when I gathered a dozen of my Bitches for brunch at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace.
I’d been to Pearl Dive’s upstairs bar, Black Jack, three times in the preceding weeks for the purpose of beer drinking and bocce ball domination. However, I’d failed to hop downstairs to Pearl Dive, 14th Street’s most buzz-worthy new restaurant, owned by the Black Restaurant Group.
The décor and ambiance at Pearl Dive emanate an authentic Cape-side feeling, with worn wooden floors, re-purposed metal light fixtures, and old wooden chairs in front of long hardwood tables. Of course, there are some nautical touches, like crab nets strategically hung in the corner, but they’re not so prevalent as to make the place cheesy.
Everything is worn and rusted—as if salt water blowing in from Cape Cod had actually eroded the charming restaurant and the oysters really came from right around the corner.
As it took a while for the whole group to gather, some of the more prompt Bitches gathered at the bar. Danny and Lauren, Washington’s most charming couple, waited patiently enjoying some beverages.
Lauren says, “While we were waiting at the bar, Danny had a spicy Bloody Mary that he absolutely loved. The bartenders were so friendly—they gave me coffee free of charge and chatted with us about anything and everything. I’m a huge fan of nice people who work at restaurants and we’re excited to go back for brunch or dinner.”
As our group settled in to a long table and a booth, we ordered rounds of doughnuts and sides. You wouldn’t expect doughnuts from a seafood place to be delectable, but these certainly were. All three flavors—vanilla sprinkles, cinnamon sugar, and raspberry filled—were moist, soft and comforting. What more do you want from a doughnut?
There were plenty of beverages on the table. Mimosas are light, with a hint of tartness, and served in a wide margarita-style glass rather than a champagne flute. I led the charge for spiked coffees: “Irish my coffee,” I quipped, and our waiter happily obliged, bringing out mug after mug of coffee and Kahlua to appease the group’s growing desire for both caffeine and alcohol.
I ordered a side of latkes, which were served with Apple-Serrano Pepper Jelley and Chive Crème Fraiche. The latkes were really good, but it was the unique sauces that made them really great. I also snuck a few bites of Maureen’s stone grits, which were perfectly prepared, buttery and rich.
Both Lindsey and Lauren began with the assorted fresh fruits and berries, crème Chantilly, basil, and peach schnapps. Both ladies said they enjoyed the fresh fruit and unique flavors, but that the fruit was a bit soggy and the honeydew melon was undesirable. Lindsey quips, “Unfortunately, it had bits of honeydew in it, which I consider a cheap fruit filler for restaurants. Who likes honeydew anyways?”
The second Lauren (for there were three at this brunch), who is an authentic Masshole from Cape Cod, had the day’s special, an omelet with mushrooms, green chilies, steak, and pepper jack cheese.
She says, “The presentation was pleasing, but the egg was a little runny for my liking, while the steak was spicy but nice. I ordered a side of grits that had a kick to them but I’m a weenie with spice so I couldn’t finish them.
“Luckily, I got my hands on an oyster that the table shared and it was the best part of my meal. The oysters had a little grit, which I always appreciate being from the Cape and cocktail sauce was a classic mix, which I also appreciate. All and all, the sides were better than my omelet but I would go back for seafood based items in a heartbeat.”
The third Lauren, one of my football and running pals, opted for the French omelet, made with three farm eggs, Kennett Square mushroom ragout, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve Farmstead Cheese. She says, “I didn’t think the omelets looked appetizing at all, but they tasted quite good. I also think the portions were quite small for the prices—I’m more of an eggs, toast and bacon type of girl. However, the grits and desserts were amazing.”
For my main dish, I ordered the shrimp po’boy, which was fried shrimp, cayenne aioli and dive fries. It came with pickles—not mentioned on the menu—and I am terrified of pickles. That’s right, deathly scared of a vegetable. As in, normally I’d send it back if a pickle was on my plate.
Not wanting to be a bigger pain in the ass than the girl that brings a dozen people to a packed restaurant, I shoved them off my sandwich but I could still taste the remnants. That being said, the sandwich was rather dry. The cayenne aioli was delicious and the sandwich bun soft and toasted. So I did my best to slather on the aioli to combat the dryness.
The French fries were good, but nothing to write home about. If I was Pearl Dive, I’d work on the fries, as they are served with a lot of the seafood dishes in large quantities and should be more memorable.
Also on the table was a cheeseburger—good, I assume, as Maureen chowed down the entire thing. Danny devoured the farm egg sandwich, made with toast, ham, cheese and scrambled eggs. Meanwhile, his friend across the table, Carter, had order envy but cleaned his plate of toast, steak and eggs as well.
Multiple people opted for the Pontchartrain Benedict, made with two poached farm eggs, an English muffin, blue crab, tasso and crawfish and topped with Cayenne Hollandaise. Everyone that had this dish cleaned their plate, that’s for certain.
Lindsey says, “It was tasty, flavorful and spicy, but a little heavy on the butter for my taste.”
Not one to leave without oysters at an oyster palace, we ordered a dozen and they were fresh and delicious.
A few hours later, we made our way to the dessert menu. We ordered key lime pie—it was tart, creamy and heavenly delicious. Some of the best key lime pie this South Florida girl has ever had. Not to mention the adorable upside-down ice cream cone presentation.
Last and most definitely not least was the mouth-wateringly delicious caramelized apple black iron pie, which came served in a cast iron skillet and topped with cinnamon gelato. The apples were caramelized with cinnamon and cognac and very gooey. The pie crust was moist, but not too flakey. The gelato was creamy and pleasant.
The Bitches say: A-. The seafood is fresh and delicious, the ambiance enjoyable and lively. The service can be spotty and some of the entrees need to be perfected. That being said, we can see why there’s hype.
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
1612 14th Street N.W.