Regional Dining Guide

Pearl Bistro: New Owner, Familiar Menu

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The region’s original brick oven pizza bar has a new owner who aims to keep its original flavor. Check out what diners can expect at this Rockford staple.

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Rick Lewis, the new owner of Pearl Bistro, in Rockford, has retained much of the original menu, especially the wood-fired pizzas, while adding new, flavorful dishes.

Outside the wrap-around windows of Pearl Bistro, 6876 Spring Creek Road, in Rockford, late-afternoon shadows are falling. Inside, the warm and casual atmosphere tempts diners to linger over good conversation and a nice wine.

Owner Rick Lewis says Pearl is exactly the sort of place he intended it to be when he purchased it from Josef and Cherri Schwaiger last October. As he pulls up a stool and gazes out a window, he explains how someone with no experience in restaurant management evolved into a business owner.

“I was on a plane every week,” Lewis says. “I wanted to be closer to home, to my children and grandchildren. I explored business options, including a franchise for cleaning cooking oil at area restaurants. But I quickly concluded that I didn’t want a startup business. I wanted to own one that was already established.”

Lewis had a connection with Pearl Bistro. His daughters Amanda and Kylie worked there as bartenders and servers. After talking to the Schwaigers, he purchased the six-year-old business.

He laughs. “I know. Restaurant ownership is a seven-day-a-week business, but I could just as easily be sitting in a hotel in Pittsburg,” he says.

As he settled in, Lewis made some small changes to Pearl’s decor. The major change is the addition of Kylie’s paintings, which are displayed throughout the restaurant.

“We have essentially the same staff, and I appointed Jonathon Powers as my executive chef,” Lewis says. “Jonathon has more than 18 years of culinary experience in the Rockford area, and was with Pearl for 16 months before I bought it. As a new owner, I rely on the knowledge and expertise of my staff.”

Pearl customers rely on friendly surroundings and an excellent menu to make each visit memorable.

“We’re Rockford’s original brick oven pizza bar,” Lewis says. “We really have a pizza to please everyone. Customers compliment us on our chicken panini sandwich, pesto ravioli, buffalo shrimp and certified angus beef burgers. And they swear our light, beer-battered cod is the best they’ve had.”

Pearl’s menu starts with taste-tempters like steamed edamame, a hummus plate, hot spinach and artichoke fondue or a new treat, ensalada pomodoro on bruschetta, with arugula, tomato, parmesan cheese and balsamic glaze. Salad choices include the Florentine baby spinach with fresh orange, caramelized pecans, goat cheese and Pearl’s signature citrus vinaigrette.

New sandwiches include tilapia and New York strip along with avocado tacos. Entrees range from innovative pasta dishes to a wide selection in beef, chicken and seafood. New this spring is bacon-wrapped pork loin with pear chutney and ruby red rainbow trout. Beyond the daily menu, Pearl features weekly offerings such as pork belly Cubano Torta, made with braised pork belly, smoked pit ham, pickle, red onion and Swiss cheese on a soft bun.

Dessert? Oh, yes. Choices range from creme brulee to pie, cake, cheesecake and an artisan cheese board with fruit and honey.

“We have several new beverages including smoke-infused martinis. Our Campfire Delight martini has melted marshmallows and smells as if you were sitting by a campfire,” Lewis says.

But it’s Pearl’s motto, #MeetAtPearl that sums up the customer experience, Lewis believes.

“Our goal is 99 percent satisfaction,” Lewis says. “You can’t please everyone all the time. But I believe our attitude of treating our guests as if they were coming into our homes creates an inviting atmosphere. I’ve been on the customer side of the table. I know what I want to see as a customer.”

Lewis says he constantly reviews both the menu and service at Pearl, and seeks out customer feedback. The result is a steadily growing customer base with consistent repeat customers, he says.

“It’s our willingness to respond to our customers’ likes and wants that makes Pearl the meeting place it has become,” Lewis says. “I’d like to continue to make Pearl a place where people like to go for fun times and to just relax.”

Pearl Bistro is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 12:30 a.m., and Sundays until 8 p.m.

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