TO THOSE who lived in Oregon at the turn of the millennium (and cared about sportsball), Joey Harrington was the man. The years Harrington spent as quarterback for the Ducks were the foundation for all those flashy Nike uniforms, and the must-win-at-all costs mega team of today. It was Harrington who lead the Ducks to their first ever 11-win season, and his 6’4” figure was inflated to Godzilla-like proportions on a billboard in Times Square during his Heisman trophy bid.
After a stint in the NFL, the Portland native known as “the Comeback Kid” came back to town. Late last year, he teamed up with ChefStable to open Pearl Tavern in the former location of the Parish oyster bar. It’s been reworked into a man cave for those who drink Bulleit and not Bud, with dark wood and espresso-colored leather booths, accented by dim pendulum lighting that doesn’t glare off the flat-screens over the bar.
Make no mistake: Pearl Tavern is a sports bar, but if you tuck into a booth at a window, it’s also a pretty darn good steakhouse.
To start with that steak: there are four cuts, ranging from $33 to $46, all served with a bit of arugula and a pat of seasoned butter. I worried that because they were served in hot cast iron pans, our rare bavette ($33) and ribeye ($39) would cook beyond temp as they sat on the table, but they both arrived at a beautiful temperature, and remained tender and pink throughout. Both were aggressively salted, making the need for chimichurri or horseradish moot, and while the leaner, skirt-steak-like bavette stood up to the seasoning, it was just a touch overboard on the already decadent ribeye.
Also in a nod to their XY-chromosomal target audience, Pearl Tavern’s drink program by bartender-about-town Ryan Magarian goes heavy on American whiskey. There’s Pappy Van Winkle, natch, but also some deep cuts with a good value, like the $11 1.5-ounce pour of Weller Antique. The beer list ventures beyond the IPA-only scene with gems like Baerlic’s salted oat gose ($6).
Cocktails are all inspired by recipes from the early 20th century. The Old Pal ($11) draws from a 1919 recipe, but tacks to trendy (and tasty) elements with rye, Campari, and dry vermouth. Every drink was enjoyable, save the Irving ($12), a vermouth and gin-based cocktail blended with lemon oil that was turned into a drinkable bouquet with the addition of floral Calisaya liqueur.
The menu offers plenty of non-challenging fare, like a shrimp cocktail ($14), five jumbo shrimp perched around a martini glass with basic cocktail sauce, and buffalo wings ($14), with the usual blue cheese and celery on the side. But next to those appetizers is a burrata ($16), that fresh Italian cheese with ample cream, served with quince paste and roasted delicata squash. It was so good we ordered it twice.
General Tso’s lamb ribs ($16) stole one evening’s show, a subtly spicy Fresno chile sauce coating the huge platter of crispy fried lamb. Another unexpected find for a sports bar: baby kale salad ($12) with acorn squash, golden raisins, pomegranate, and a curry-spiced vinaigrette that kept everything from veering to cloying—it was a level of finesse with vegetables shared by no other place that serves wings.
There were a few serious failures: the kitchen needs to work out how to cook the thick-stemmed Chinese broccoli side ($5), which arrived inedible, while the trout ($25) was a testament to a fish dish that will kill you—the brussels sprouts and Swiss chard stood no chance against an over-rich brown butter sauce tossed with ample bacon lardons.
Beware of wearing a plaid shirt to Pearl Tavern (a near impossibility, I know), because all servers are required to wear the pattern. But they’re friendly and pretty helpful with recommendations. And as someone who doesn’t often go to the Pearl District, the dim lighting and warm feeling made me forget where I was.
Oh, and I totally got to meet Joey Harrington. Be jelly, sports fans.