Reservation For One at Pearl Tavern

Photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

Finding delicious shrimp or fish and chips in Kansas City is no problem. Fresh oysters? You have options. Eight different types of fish flown in from around the world? Now you’re in a more exclusive class of Midwestern restaurants, one that Pearl Tavern comfortably fits into and makes its own.

Situated in an outdoor Lee’s Summit shopping center, the restaurant serves up classic, approachable takes on dishes in a convivial atmosphere where guests don’t hesitate to tie on crab-adorned plastic bibs and get their hands dirty during weekend brunch and daily lunch and dinner service.

Sure, the person next to you could order up a bottle of Moët, but they’re far more likely to be sipping a beer or one of the bar’s signature crushes, blends of liquor and fresh-squeezed juice served over crushed ice. The Blackberry Bramble crush, made with Builders Botanical Gin, muddled blackberries, lemon, and simple syrup packs a tart, refreshing punch and comes with two juicy blackberries served, fittingly, on a pearl-topped skewer.

Pearl Tavern shows signs of the space’s former life as a sports bar but leans into its coastal influence with wood-planked walls, exposed brick and a striking rope canopy. A kitschy assortment of marine-inspired pieces adorns the walls, from framed rows of sand dollars to images of playful mermaids.

Although it’s thoroughly unpretentious, the eatery’s selection of fresh seafood borders on being overwhelming, flown in fresh from both coasts as well as the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes, among other destinations.

Choose from one of the many oysters being offered that day to start, or opt for the ceviche. Once the crispy tostadas run out, don’t stop to think twice about grabbing a fork and digging in for any remaining chunks of tender fish, shrimp and scallops in a chilled habanero-spiced broth—unless it’s to gleefully accept one of the surprisingly airy house honey biscuits, offered not at the beginning of the meal but brought out on a tray and served individually once you’ve settled in a bit. Does everyone else get a biscuit? Yes. Does that make it feel any less thrilling when you’re personally offered a little cloud of goodness? Absolutely not.

The fresh fish options tantalize, with a menu ranging from tilapia from Costa Rica to Peruvian silk snapper to barramundi from Down Under depending on the day, all available grilled or blackened with mashed potatoes, asparagus and herb beurre blanc.

Pearl Tavern offers a handful of items for those not interested in seafood in a category tellingly dubbed “not fish” on the menu. But—go fish. The seafood dishes on the everyday menu are familiar with a twist—the Maryland crab cakes are accompanied by a glossy mound of forbidden black rice, and the decadent lobster mac n’ cheese boasts a lobster veloute in addition to a creamy cheese sauce. For those who know their way around a crab leg (and have the patience to shell it), the Tavern Boil satisfies with plump shrimp, crab legs, Yukon gold potatoes, andouille sausage, corn, and yes, the aforementioned plastic bib.

That the seafood is handled reverently should come as no surprise given the fact owners Andy Lock and Domhnall Molloy and culinary director and chef Po Wang, the trio behind a growing empire of Lee’s Summit favorites like Third Street Social and Summit Grill, are veterans of McCormick & Schmick’s, as is Kent Long, the executive chef.

Pastry chef Nicolette Foster rounds out the crew, and the menu, with a rotating selection of homemade pies. A slice of her peanut butter pretzel confection is a simple yet effective endnote with its blend of salty pretzel and sweet peanut butter, a sinful combination of silky and crunchy textures.

Just like finding a local restaurant laser-focused on fresh seafood in landlocked Missouri, it proves to be a very welcome surprise. 

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