Thursday, March 08, 2018

Ryan Magarian's Pearl Tavern Matures

It's not all food system issues around here, y'know. I also get a chance to write profiles of restaurateurs and visits to museums thanks to kind editors like Andrew Collins of Portland's The Pearl magazine. Recently I drove across the Willamette to sit down with cocktail guru Ryan Magarian to talk about his latest venture with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, called Pearl Tavern, which Magarian described as an "American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern."

After a slightly bumpy beginning, this lively neighborhood space has found its footing—and a loyal following.

It seemed like a recipe for a hands-down success: combine a highly visible corner location in a burgeoning business and residential neighborhood with the expertise and energy of a sought-after bar expert opening his fourth establishment, a Michelin-star chef, a hugely successful restaurant development group, and a national sports celebrity. Throw in a can’t-miss concept: American sports bar meets neighborhood tavern. And you’ve got an instant winner, right?

“When we started out, we let ourselves get a little undisciplined,” says Ryan Magarian, the man behind some of the city’s most successful bar programs, including neighboring Oven & Shaker, which he runs with chef Cathy Whims. His newest venture, the comfortably masculine Pearl Tavern (231 NW 11th Ave, 503-954-3796), which he opened almost a year ago with former University of Oregon and NFL footballer Joey Harrington, took a few months to hit its stride.

“We were trying to do too many things,” he says. “We were kind of looking at doing steak, we were sports, we were a restaurant, and honestly—it just didn’t connect with people at first.”

Steadily, however, Magarian and his teammates have put together a winning venture, with star chef Thomas Boyce helming the kitchen. Pearl Tavern maximizes what Magarian refers to as the neighborhood’s desire “to find comfort and community in one space.” Indeed, you’ll find an unexpectedly high level of service, food, and beverages that’s quite uncommon among sports-concept restaurants.

Magarian claims, in his humble opinion, that the tavern turns out the best burger in town. Other top dishes include a healthier version of classic nachos, featuring pulled pork, tomatillo salsa, and cotija cheese, and an unabashedly decadent mac and cheese. Chef Boyce, known for his commitment to local farms, ranchers, and fishing families, plans to feature Dungeness crab cakes when the season opens, and his fish-and-chips and shrimp with hazelnut romesco are already fan favorites.

Magarian also designed his cocktail menu with fresh ingredients in mind. Consider the Whiskey Ginger From Scratch, with freshly extracted ginger juice (“people go bananas for it,” he says) and Thumper’s Revenge, which he describes as “somewhere between a Bloody Mary and a mojito with carrot juice as a primary foundation—so fresh, but savory too.”

Read the rest of the article about his groundbreaking whiskey program, curated by the phenomenal Tommy Klus, and the tavern's "complete celebration of Oregon athletics."

Photos by Paul Wagtouicz for The Pearl magazine.

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