November 2016

The Pearl Kitchen & Bar: A Boutique Venue and Menu

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Chef Matt Valentino puts the finishing touches on a dish while his culinary team sautés in the background.

Opened in April of this year, The Pearl Kitchen & Bar is a complete sensory dining experience, comfortably situated at the corner of Calhoun and Lawrence Streets in Bluffton’s Old Town. Already quite at home among the burg’s specialty boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, the Nightingale family restaurant group, NHG, has created a gourmand’s boutique venue and menu under the leadership of son, Alex Nightingale, building on the success of their sister restaurant, ELA’S Blu Water Grille on Hilton Head Island, where family patriarch Earl Nightingale has delectably placed his stamp.

When it came time to put a name to their new endeavor, The Pearl was a natural fit. After all, ELA’S was named for Earl’s three children, Erin, Lauren, and Alex, so it only seemed right that a riff on their dad’s lifelong nickname, Earl the Pearl, was the logical choice. “The Pearl kind of has a double meaning,” Alex Nightingale said.

The restaurant’s interior was designed by his sister, interior designer Erin Wasem, and inspired by local designer Linda Conklin of Seasons in Village at Wexford. “I wanted the interiors to be soft, white, and enveloping—like a pearl and the interior of an oyster or clam shell,” Wasem said. “This also allows the guests and food to be the stars of the space, as they should be.” The Pearl provides an elegant, unfettered backdrop to the culinary stars on the menu. The previous occupant of the restaurant’s space left some splendid wood finishes intact, which Wasem skillfully incorporated into her design, along with crisp white bead-board throughout, tables handmade by Earl and Alex from repurposed wood flooring taken from a former Beaufort dance hall—a locale soon to become their third endeavor, Roadhouse Ribs (check out, and dark stained concrete floors. The art on the walls is by Brucie Holler, with one special painting by the Nightingale’s family friend and artist, the late Peter Karis, whose work is also displayed throughout ELA’S.

The Lounge
Large windows, a vaulted ceiling and bright white walls accentuate the unique wooden bar.

Ember Grilled Filet Mignon
Blistered cherry tomatoes, wilted spinach, potatoes, demi glaze.’‘

The Dining Room
The interior of the restaurant is clean and white, in an ode to it’s name.

Big Eye Tuna Poke
Ponzu, pineapple, avocado, sesame and wonton chips.

A bank of large windows was a hidden gem found during the design phase of The Pearl. “They were hidden behind a bunch of wine racks and coolers that had been placed in front of them,” Nightingale said. Now crowned by awning-like farmhouse shutters, designed by Wasem and made by the Nightingale men from two repurposed server stations, the windows create a fresh, bright atmosphere during the day, and beautifully catch the light and reflect the lovely ambiance after dark.

Under the guidance of Chef Matt Valentino, the menu is laser-focused on fresh, with a fondness for local Southern incarnations and an infusion of brilliant Italian tastes. “He’s an extremely, creative, passionate guy,” Nightingale said of his head chef. “We try to source as locally as possible, but we also want the best and freshest ingredients. With the seasons, sometimes we have to go elsewhere to find the best products.”

The Pearl’s menu marries ingredients that are selected for their freshness and flavor, and deftly touches on tastes with a wide worldview. The red sauce prepared with the Prince Edward Island Mussels provides a little heat—a little spice. Valentino takes a deeply delicious bow to the South with The Pearl’s Chicken + Waffles and Shrimp + Grits served with jalapeno syrup and roasted corn and red pepper salsa, and a trinity of peppers, onions, and a Tasso ham gravy, respectively. Served with cucumber noodle salad, the Pan Seared Red Snapper goes a bit Asian with soba noodles, snow peas, baby carrots, edamame, and a peanut sauce. “It’s extremely unique, not overly complicated, simple, clean, delicious,” Nightingale said.

From The Pearl Martini to the Bees Knees, from Mexican Coffee to a Nutty Irishman, from St. Peter’s Organic English Ale to Angry Orchard Cider, from a wine list selected with superb balance by Alex Nightingale, to a menu of scotches deep enough to suit the most discerning connoisseur, The Pearl’s bar is only the beginning of the sensory experience. “If you’re at the bar and you can’t decide what you want, Karen [Legette, The Pearl’s fulltime bartender] will come up with something for you,” Nightingale said. “We have created a boutique-style restaurant, with a boutique-style wine list and bar menu. How great is it to have a drink, have an appetizer, have a bottle of wine with dinner? That to me is the ultimate dining experience.”

Nightingale has been pleasantly surprised by the number of local residents who have made The Pearl their regular stop for an evening, and he knows his team has made that happen. “I’m a big believer that it isn’t just great food that makes for a great experience,” he said. “You’re also getting ambiance, and you’re getting engagement. Our servers are not just taking your order and leaving. They’re really engaging. I love our service staff.”

In high demand for special events and parties, Nightingale is thrilled to be expanding into the space upstairs at their home on Calhoun Street. With a balcony, lots of natural light, its own bar and television, and a private entrance, parties up to 30 will be able to celebrate and enjoy The Pearl experience in private. “It’s perfect for small rehearsal parties, holiday parties, showers, and events, or even reserve it to watch a football game,” Nightingale said. The Pearl also offers live entertainment on their downstairs porch (when the weather is inclement they go indoors) every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. In addition to their nightly dinner service, and with the opening of their new space, The Pearl will be opening for lunch; days, hours, and details will be available on their website.

Part of creating a true boutique experience includes location and finding a sense of community. “This is a small town, and it’s a great town,” Nightingale said. “There’s a sense of camaraderie; we support each other. On any given night, the guest may be from a neighboring business from just up the street.”

Whether from just up the street, from across the Talmadge Bridge, or from up the coast, guests at The Pearl Kitchen & Bar will find all their senses sumptuously satisfied. 

The Pearl Kitchen & Bar is located at 55 Calhoun Street, Bluffton. For more information or to make a reservation, please call (843) 757-5511 or visit

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