You may have already discovered The Pearl, so appropriately named, as it truly is an unexpected treasure nestled right in the heart of Old Town Bluffton. If you haven’t experienced The Pearl yet, then get ready for a night of fine dining in one of the area’s newest and most happening spots. But be warned—you might want to call ahead for reservations because word is spreading fast!
Meet the owner: Alex Nightingale, President of Nightingale Hospitality Group (NHG, Inc.) and owner of The Pearl, grew up in the hospitality industry. His dad, Earl Nightingale, worked in corporate America for Omni Hotels for over 40 years. “We always put on big events and threw holiday parties for his staff. When you grow up around that, you pick up on things, the details. I guess you could say I was bred for this.” After retiring, Earl decided to open up ELA’s on Hilton Head Island, named after his three kids—Erin, Lauren and Alex. Alex fell in love with the business, and they soon began to search for places to open a second restaurant.
The opportunity presented itself for a place in Bluffton, in what would become The Pearl. “Everything just fell into place,” said Alex. His sister Erin, an interior designer, made over what was formerly Vineyard 55, giving it a whole new look that is crisp, clean and contemporary.
Meet the chef: Matt Valentino, The Pearl’s Executive Chef, was born in Charleston and raised on Pawley’s Island, SC. He moved here in high school and ended up staying. He attended the Culinary Institute of Savannah.
flavor profile: FRESH! Every thing is the freshest, highest quality available. “We buy locally when we can, but you run into things you can’t get locally, like halibut. Chef is extremely creative, so we want to give him whatever products he wants.” If a shipment arrives that doesn’t appear up to par, then Alex sends it back. Every ingredient is held to the highest, freshest standards.
In addition, every dish has its own unique twist, from the She-Crab soup made with Palmetto Kettle Corn Popcorn from the Bluffton Farmer’s Market, to the shrimp and grits made with Adluh Farm’s grits (the staff’s most popular after hours meal of choice).
Favorite spice: Matt Valentino’s favorite spice to use is white pepper. “The flavor is more distinct, and it goes farther.”
Cooking tip from the chef:“Less is always more. Simplicity goes a long way. Garnish with an ingredient that is used in the dish.”
The Hook: “Great service staff. We are establishing great relationships with people who return every week. We have a relaxed atmosphere for casual fine dining. Everyone here is local—everyone knows everyone. People come in every night and end up seeing others they know. They pull the tables together, hang out and have a good time. It’s an escape from reality. You have service, ambiance and amazing food. Bring all of those components into one and you’re going to get a great experience.”
Most popular dessert: “We take Mason jars and make S’mores in them. A lot of people end up getting them to go. So we have to buy lots of 89 cent Mason jars from World Market, but it’s a small price to pay for happiness.”
Most popular appetizer: “The only recipe that came from ELA’s is the calamari (right). No rings, tentacles or heads—it’s a steak that we cut up. It’s the best way to have it.”
Most popular entrée: “That’s a tough call between grouper and scallops (pictured above) with romesco sauce. Those are our top entrees. We also have steaks. The filets are amazing. All of our meat products come from Linz Stockyard in Chicago.”
What is the latest Food trend? “There is a trend out West that’s making its way here—mixing cured beefs, unique cheeses, pickles and unique sauces. Charcuterie is one I’m still learning about.”
when you go: You can make a reservation for The Pearl by calling 843-757-5511 or visiting their website: www.thepearlbluffton.com. The Pearl is located in Old Town Bluffton at 55 Calhoun Street.
coming soon: The Pearl is going to expand into the upstairs space in the very near future. “We will be able to host private groups, catered events and rehearsal dinners. It will be our food and our atmosphere, but will give people their own private dining area and space to mingle.