The description “Big Easy Mary – Garnished with a blue cheese stuffed jalapeno, crawfish and pickled carrots, rimmed with Creole seasoning” does not prepare you for the libation to come. I am a recent Bloody Mary convert, having been coaxed into liking the drink by my son’s former hockey coach. When my wife told me about the famed Big Easy Mary served at Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen in Elk Rapids, I knew I had to try it.
This weekend we were greeted to a visit by mother LeeAnn. She’s a fan of The Crooked Porch, and wanted to explore something unique in Northern Michigan with my family. With my son playing a football game in Bellaire, my wife and I decided that it was time to give Pearl’s a try.
At first blush, the idea of a Creole restaurant in Northern Michigan appears to be a stretch. Alligator. Crawfish. Shrimp. Oysters. Not one of these ingredients can be harvested in Michigan. Why would anyone put a Creole restaurant in Elk Rapids?! Answer – Because they can! Creole and Cajun cooking is tricky to replicate in Michigan, but Pearl’s kitchen offers a menu that promises, and delivers, the best in Southern dining.
We arrived to Pearl’s around 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. The bar was empty, but the restaurant was half-full. Restaurateurs have an annoying habit of hating empty wall space, filling every free inch with frick and frack. The effect often leaves your eyes so blinded by stuff, that you end up staring down at the table the entire evening. At Pearl’s, the walls full of voodoo dolls, hot sauce, paper-machete dragons, string beads, and vintage pictures provides a much appreciated atmosphere. As you are led to your table, you feel as if you are being transported into a New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration.
When we sat, the three adults were each given four separate menus (the kids were given just two) – the normal dinner menu, a menu of special dishes celebrating bourbon, a drink menu, and a menu listing the restaurants 40 varieties of bourbon.
The waitress arrived for our drink orders. My wife and I both knew what we wanted, even being the only ones ordering alcoholic beverages. Jill ordered the Mint Julep, a decent take on the southern classic made with Makers Mark bourbon, fresh mint, sugar and a splash of soda. I wanted the Big Easy Mary, with one exception. Staring at the long list of bourbons, it seemed a crime to order a drink with flavorless vodka. So instead, I asked for Bullit Bourbon in my Big Easy Mary.
The Big Easy Mary mixture was a delicious and spicy blend of tomato, horseradish and pepper that was complimented better with bourbon than vodka. It is difficult to find a quality Bloody Mary in Northern Michigan. I was so enamored with this drink that I soon ordered a second.
My wife encouraged us to try the Oyster Shooter – a fresh shucked oyster, jalapeno steeped vodka and cocktail sauce. When the drink arrived, I thought it the concoction of a voodoo witch doctor hoping to hex my soul. The vodka is delivered in a martini glass with a sliver of lemon on the rim. Separate cups held the oyster and cocktail sauce. My wife went first, drinking down half the vodka before slurping up half the oyster. When it was my turn, I dumped the oyster into the glass and drank the whole thing down. Neither of us used the cocktail sauce. The drink was fun, and the kids enjoyed watching us down our half.
When the food arrived, we knew we were in for a culinary treat. We started with the Bayou Sampler – Shrimp & Grits, Blackened Alligator, Oysters Rockefeller, and Crawfish Cake. We have a rule in our house, that the kids have to at least try everything offered at a dinner table. Although both love mussels, neither took to the Oysters (which was fine because my wife and I loved them). My son David ate all the shrimp before anyone had a chance to sample them. My mother loved the creamy grits and the alligator bites were a hit with everyone. Jill enjoyed the sauce so much that after the plate was emptied, she forked it all up. For me the star of the platter was the Crawfish Cake. Similar in preparation to traditional crab cakes found in Maryland and along the eastern seaboard – only with more spice – the crawfish cakes were a rustic delight.
My wife and mom were nearly full after the starter course, so they each just ordered soup from the bourbon menu – a thick and creamy butternut bisque and a melty, gooey bourbon French onion. I ordered the Daniel Boone Bourbon Stroganoff, but had a difficult time eating this dish. Why? Because I was forced to fight through my son’s fork to get a bite. From the noodles and broth to the beef and the thick meaty mushrooms, every bite was savory.
We left Pearl’s with full, satisfied stomachs. My wife and I are eager to return on a night without kids, when we can sample more of the drinks and dine without skinny arms stretching across our plates.
For more information, you can visit Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen’s website.