DINING: At 86th and Ditch, a revamped pearl among bistros

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Dining - A&E

Tucked away behind Half-Price Books and Donato’s Pizza in the space formerly occupied by Russia House, Pearl Bistro (1475 W. 86th St., 876-7990) has quietly earned a reputation in its first year as more than just another spot for ladies-who-lunch. Stressing locally grown produce, healthier oils and seasonal menu changes, its lunchtime vibe is casual and welcoming.

I’ll admit that the Kenny G music that greeted us upon entry (and played throughout our late-afternoon meal), led me to expect food more inoffensively bland. But my companion and I were pleasantly and repeatedly surprised by a menu that started with Shrimp and Grits ($8).

To be honest, it isn’t pretty. The three sizable shrimp encased like King Arthur’s sword in a lump of earth-toned, gravy-enhanced Wiesenberger grits isn’t likely to grace a magazine cover anytime soon. But the tastes partnered well together, providing a hearty Louisiana-influenced start.

Pearl Bistro offers a selection of sandwiches, including burgers, and salads for lunch. Or you can pick both from a slightly more limited menu—or pair either with a soup—as an $8.50 lunch special. That’s where we headed. The hamburger soup was somber-looking but substantial. Its partner, the Hawaiian Beef Sandwich, was more to our liking. Grilled slices of marinated New York strip steak were topped with pineapple, roasted red pepper and red onion chutney in a must-fork combo.

The Bistro Melt was equally pleasing, presenting sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers, roasted pablanos, tomato, red onion and both provolone and cheddar cheese on a ciabatta roll (I have to admit, though, that the ciabatta still hasn’t won me over, here or elsewhere). We paired it with a House Salad, accented nicely with sweet and spicy nuts.

No time for dessert, we thought.

But we reversed that decision quickly when we heard about the house-made Key Lime Pie. Subtler than most, it sent us off with a nicely tart taste to continue what was left of the work day.•

—Lou Harry


Third in a month-long series of 86th and Ditch dining reviews.


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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.