When Rebecca Charles opened Pearl Oyster Bar there wasn’t a lobster roll to be found in Manhattan. Charles reinvented Maine’s signature sandwich and other seaside staples from fried oysters and pan roasts to lobster stew, chowders and blueberry crumble pie. Using a trained chef’s approach, she elevated what was previously thought of as simply “beach food.” Pearl, Rebecca’s version of the upscale lobster shack is the standard bearer for what has now become an international trend.
For Chef Charles, whose family has been summering on Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk since 1917, New England seafood is not a “trend,” however. It is a treasured part of her history. Named for Rebecca’s opera-singing grandmother, Rebecca “Pearle” Goldsmith, Pearl Oyster Bar is a salute to those summers.
A native New Yorker, Rebecca started her career there in the 1970s, working her way up through the kitchen hierarchy in the French tradition from dishwasher to executive chef. She spent the 1980s working in Kennebunk, Maine earning four-star reviews: first, as executive chef of the legendary White Barn Inn and then at Café 74, a restaurant of her own design.
In the late 1980s she returned to New York, spending five years at Anne Rosenzweig’s seminal restaurant, Arcadia. In 1994, Rebecca left to take the executive chef’s job at Noho’s Cascabel. A year later she conceived Pearl, a twenty-seat seafood counter, which opened on July 2, 1997.
In 2003, her cookbook/memoir, “Lobster Rolls & Blueberry Pie: Three Generations of Stories and Recipes from summers on the Coast of Maine,” was published by Harper Collins. The same year “the little restaurant that could” doubled in size.
Pearl will be celebrating its 17th Anniversary in 2014.