As San Antonio’s food scene continues to flourish, the historic Pearl Brewery, which has been at the forefront of the city’s culinary evolution, continues to gain momentum. Just last year six restaurants opened at the historic complex, and four more are set to open in the coming year – in addition to a luxury hotel with a groundbreaking culinary program.
“He really wanted Pearl to become this neighborhood centered around people doing creative, and amazing things with food.” – Shelley Grieshaber
The brewery was established in 1883 but shut down in 2001 when its parent company, Pabst, began transferring production to Miller Brewing facilities. Soon after, the philanthropic billionaire Kit Goldsbury purchased the 22-acre complex and began to hire on a team to help realize his vision.
“Kit Goldsbury is very passionate about all things culinary and food-related — and also about education and entrepreneurialism,” says Elizabeth Fauerso, chief marketing officer of the Pearl. “He really wanted Pearl to become this neighborhood centered around people doing creative, and amazing things with food.”
In giving new life to a once-vibrant part of San Antonio, Goldsbury also thought it was essential to salvage the unique history of the Pearl by reusing and recycling as much of the old complex as possible. “When Kit decided to buy the property, he thought it was important to preserve everything that was here,” says Shelley Grieshaber, the culinary director of the Pearl. “Every desk, every mid-century chair, every bottle… We have a warehouse, and everything has been cataloged and archived – from beer caps and labels to belts and tires and trucks.”
“When Kit decided to buy the property, he thought it was important to preserve everything that was here… every desk, every mid-century chair, every bottle– Shelley GrieshaberTenants who sign a lease with the Pearl get access to the magic warehouse with one stipulation: use anything you want, but everything must stay on site. “If there are things that are appropriate to your business and you could reuse creatively, then we would love for people to take anything and work it into their decor,” says Grieshaber. “But we’re not looking for a circus or a carnival atmosphere. And that’s one reason it’s been really important to have great designers and architects — great people that are super creative and not looking to do something typical.” Reclaimed materials are cleverly and subtly woven into design all throughout the complex. A chandelier outside the Blue Box Bar is made from pieces of an old bottle labeler, while the one in the Lab building consists of test tubing once used to regulate beer. The administrative offices contain conference tables made from wheeled conveyor lines, rusted propane tanks have become planters blooming with flowers, and the metal cones once used to lift brew tanks up off the ground now suspend tabletops inside the area’s coffee shop.
While local architect Jonathan Card of Urbanist Design is responsible for some of the more recent additions to the complex — Arcade Midtown Kitchen, Cured and Local Coffee — the master plan was created by Lake I Flato. “We like to use different architects so it doesn’t look cookie cutter,” says Grieshaber. “Even though we’ve got all these beautiful, historic buildings sprinkled throughout, we want to make sure anything that’s new is a little different, a little edgy.”
In addition to a weekly farmer’s market, Pearl is also the site of many music-laced, food-focused events throughout the year, such as the Tamales! Holiday Festival, Annual Paella Challenge, and Meatopia, among others. As the complex rapidly expands to include a two-acre plaza with fountains, pavilions and a culinary garden, Fauerso says we can expect even more pop-ups and collaboration with the on-site Culinary Institute of America. “In the next five years, we will build all the way out and finally not be under construction,” says Fauerso, “and I think that will catalyze a lot of collaboration.”
Grieshaber also looks forward to making the Pearl even more accessible to all members of the community and using the farmer’s market as a platform to encourage food education and address issues like child obesity and the food desert, drawing inspiration from San Francisco’s CUESA model for urban sustainability.
“It’s not just about coming here and having a great meal all the time,” says Grieshaber. “That’s the short term, but the long term is betterment of the city.”
Citygram took a look inside a few of the many highlights found inside the Pearl Brewery:
Culinary Institute of America
What started in 2005 as a pilot program with 18 students in the Center for Foods of the Americas became the third American branch of the Culinary Institute of America in 2008. After an addition in 2010, the San Antonio CIA is now 160 students strong and spans 30,000 square feet within the Pearl.In addition to the typical CIA degree programs, students can opt to supplement their education with a 12-week Latin specialization program. The school also offers food enthusiast classes ranging from hands-on Saturday cooking classes to weeklong boot camps. According to Heather Gasaway, their special services coordinator, these classes have the highest enrollment out of all three campuses.
Every six weeks, students working in NAO, the on-campus restaurant, focus on learning and preparing a different regional cuisine of Latin American. Since CIA is also a non-profit college, 17 percent of NAO’s profits are funneled into the El Suneo scholarship program, which provides 90 percent of students with financial aid.Outside the classrooms, there’s an outdoor kitchen made from what was once a water tank for the old brewery. On Friday evenings, students serve Latin-inspired dim sum from it, and on Saturdays they sell tacos to the farmers market crowd. Barbacoa and pachamanca (Peruvian barbecue) pits are also built into the ground nearby for special occasions through the year.
The Pearl Brewery, with its many restaurants and food events, couldn’t be a better place for the culinary students to study. “If they’re not doing their externships here, they’re making connections for after they leave the CIA,” says Gasaway.
Il Sogno Osteria
When San Antonio restaurateur Andrew Weissman opened Il Sogno in 2007, it was the first restaurant in the Pearl. “When I met with Kit and Ken (the owner and CEO, respectively) regarding the Pearl, and we discussed the vision, I just kinda bought into it,” remembers Weissman. “I didn’t know exactly how it would move along and change the dynamics of the city, but I did know that their vision was really amazing, so I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Il Sogno serves classic Italian fare inspired by the trattorias and osterias of Rome and Florence, with offerings of antipasti, wood-fired pizzas, pastas, risottos, and entrees featuring fresh seafood and local meat. Their breakfast is also one of the best at the Pearl, with dishes like polenta and coddled eggs, frittatas, fresh fruit salads, and velvety espresso.
“San Antonio went from a four or five restaurant town…to this dynamic culinary city that’s actually every day just burgeoning…I think the Pearl has changed the city as a whole.”
– CHEF ANDREW WEISSMAN
The energetic San Antonio native, who runs daily and does yoga on the balcony of Il Sogno, is no newcomer to the local restaurant scene. He once led La Rêve to award-winning fame, is a partner in his family’s Big’z Burger Joint, and also owns Sandbar (an upscale oyster bar at the Pearl), in addition to opening two restaurants in the past year (Minnies Tavern and The Luxury). He’s poised to open up Sip Brew Bar in the Pearl, which will specialize in coffee, salads and cold-pressed juice, and he’s currently seeking a location for his next project: an organic tortilleria where chefs will grill huaraches on a comal while customers sip Mexican beer.
“San Antonio went from a 4 or 5 restaurant town, you know, outside of tacos and whatnot, to this dynamic culinary city that’s actually every day just burgeoning,” he says. “New restaurants, food trucks, and all kinds of things we didn’t even have five years ago… I think it’s amazing. I think the Pearl has changed the city as a whole.”
Pearl Farmers Market
Every Saturday from 9 am until 1 pm, the Pearl comes to life with live music and the heavenly smell of griddled crepes and savory tacos as local farmers gather to sell the fruits of their labor. The festive Pearl Farmer’s Market is family- and dog-friendly, and a must-see for San Antonio visitors.
“We’re a producers-only market,” says Fauerso. “We have some prepared foods, but we make sure it’s over 55 percent producers. So the farmers themselves are the ones producing and selling the food — we don’t have any middle men, which some markets do. And it’s all within a 150-mile radius, so it’s truly local.”
Vendors include CKC Farms (goat cheese), Dos Lunas (aged raw cow’s milk cheese), Sol y Luna Baking Company, Rhew Orchards and Peeler Farms out of Floresville, Gretchen Bee Ranch, CKC Farms out of Blanco, Braune Farms out of Seguin, and many more.
Drawn to the location for its proximity to the CIA, food historian and culinary expert Melissa Guerra has had her eponymous Latin American kitchen store in the Pearl since 2008. The self-taught chef who grew up on a cattle farm in South Texas has written two books. One, entitled Dishes from the Wild Horse Desert: Norteño Cuisine of South Texas, was nominated for a James Beard Award. She also had a KLRN cooking show called “Texas Provincial Kitchen” and appeared on the PBS reality show “Texas Ranch House.”
“Nobody does Latin American because it’s too hard,” says Guerra. “It’s really a very different marketplace. It’s all cottage industry artisans and they’re very difficult to connect with, and it’s hard to find the best quality.”
Guerra’s selection runs the gamut from etched glassware from San Miguel de Allende and recycled glass from Bolivia to earthen molcajetes and Guatemalan embroidered coasters to fair trade coffee and chocolate, Mexican sea salt and vanilla, cigars, Latin American wines, paella rice, dried chiles, and much more.
“The perception is that everything that comes out of Latin America is not good quality so people aren’t going to pay a good price,” explains Guerra. “So I tried to reposition Latin American so that it’s accessible and it’s accessibly priced, but it’s good quality.”
When not in the shop, Guerra can be found blogging for The Latin Kitchen, speaking to populations ranging from historical groups to classrooms to botanical foundations, working on her latest cookbook project (this one focusing on tortillas), and growing her ever-expanding online business.
“It’s interesting to see what a little bit of web presence will do,” she says. “It’s converted into some nice affiliations in New York. It’s cool because people in New York are interested in what we’re doing — and by “we” I mean San Antonio. It’s cool to be on the forefront of that.”
Arcade Midtown Kitchen
After studying at a cooking school in Oaxaca, receiving an introductory sommelier certificate and earning accolades while cooking at restaurants in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Long Beach, CA, San Antonio native Jesse Perez returned to his home town to open his first solo venture.
“My family first and foremost was my inspiration for returning to San Antonio,” says Perez. “In addition, the culinary scene in San Antonio has been up and coming and I surely wanted to be a part of that growth and momentum… I have no doubt that Pearl will continue to push the envelope for San Antonio and provide a great source of community and entertainment.”
Arcade Midtown Kitchen opened just over a year ago in the Pearl Brewery and continues to receive rave reviews for its fresh, fun dishes, which can be described as modern American with a Latin twist at a great price point. Try their red chile and lime calamari, lobster soft tacos folded into a light masa crepe, wood-fired flatbreads, PEI mussels with chorizo and orange habanero butter, and the indulgent burgers topped with a slab of thick cut bacon and slathered with cayenne mayo.
Bar manager Chris Ware, who cut his teeth at Bohanan’s, has curated an impressive bar program to complement the food. Besides cocktails created by both himself and his colleagues throughout the years (such as Steve Martin, Jeret Pena, and Matty Gee), Ware has also included rotating barrel-aged cocktails, such as his signature version of a Vieux Carre and everything from cans of Pearl to 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle.
“This is a community and we have to take care of each other…that is something (Jesse) teaches myself and our staff.”
– WINNIE MAK
(MANAGER AT ARCADE)
In the spirit of the rest of the Pearl, Arcade is filled with relics of the brewery’s past. The chandeliers are all handmade using either crates from the old brewery or bottle caps and taps. The restrooms utilize old freezer doors, tackle board mirrors once served as bulletin boards, and an old desk is used as the host stand. Conveyor belt leather is used in the design, and giant, old fans mark the perimeter of the patio.
Though not reused from the past Pearl, another signature of Arcade is a Zoltar fortune teller in the bathroom hallway, whose proceeds go to a charity of Perez’s choosing each quarter.
“This is a community and we have to take care of each other,” says manager Winnie Mak. “And that is something (Jesse) teaches myself and our staff — to know we’re blessed but we have to give back.”
Having just opened at the very end of December 2013, Cured is the most recent restaurant to open in the Pearl. Formerly the administration building of the Pearl, the brewery owner and president’s office was once housed in the 110 year-old building. Now, the safe has been reimagined as a walk-in cooler, the men’s room sink is crafted from an old metal desk, and reclaimed cabinets are displayed in the women’s restroom. The tin ceiling tiles were even pressed by the same company with the same presses and layout used in the original building.
“The challenge was to create a great balance between modern architecture and this beautiful jewel box of a building,” says Grieshaber. The revitalization of the building took a full 14 months, says chef/owner Steven McHugh, who originally came to San Antonio from John Besh’s Luke in New Orleans to take over as executive chef at his San Antonio location.
“The things I love about San Antonio are the same things I love about New Orleans – the history, the architecture… this kind of terroir that’s built into their culture and cuisine.”
– CHEF STEVEN MCHUGH
“I’d never been to San Antonio and didn’t really know what to expect, and I really just fell in love with this city,” says McHugh. “The things I love about San Antonio are the same things I love about New Orleans – the history, the architecture, the years and years of people that have been here – this kind of terroir that’s built into their culture and cuisine.”
When creating the menu for Cured, McHugh said he took inspiration from countries he’s visited, memorable meals, cooking techniques he loves, and things he wanted to learn more about. “I just tell people it’s the kind of restaurant I want to go to when I’m off,” he says. “In one word, I would say it’s honest. I don’t mind making people think when it comes to a dish. But, at the same time, we’re not going for shock value. We’re not trying to be quirky and off-the-wall.”
Highlights include pork cheeks poutine with purple cauliflower, masa flash fried oysters, cabrito sliders, a Nola-influenced smoked pork gumbo, corned beef tongue, and over a dozen selections of charcuterie cured from 60 days to 10 months in the humidity controlled locker at the entrance.
The restaurant’s name is also a double entendre. “Part of it has to do with cured meats,” says McHugh, “but the other part is the fact that I battled lymphoma in 2010 for a year and did 8 rounds of chemotherapy and came out looking really good on the other side.”
Much like Chef Perez, McHugh is also very invested in giving back to the community. Right now, a dollar from every charcuterie plate goes to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the designated charity will rotate every three months.
“My main focus, and my wife’s main focus,” explains McHugh, “(is that) we didn’t want to burst onto the scene like a bunch of hot shots. We really wanted to represent a sense of community and give back to our community. That’s important to us.”
This is no surprise coming from someone who fed the masses with John Besh in New Orleans after Katrina, then drove to Bastrop to cook in a church for three days after fires destroyed the area. McHugh sums it up quite simply: “This is our community, this is where we live and these are the people we need to take care of.”
Food & Beverage Columnist
Veronica Meewes is a freelance writer and photographer in Austin, TX.
Specializing in lifestyle, travel and food her work has appeared in several outlets including Forbes Travel Guide, Serious Eats, and The Today Show.
Veronica spent her childhood in New Jersey, and traveled around the country before deciding on the sunny capital of Texas.