Worth the Drive
Pearl in the Grove is, pretty literally, in the middle of nowhere. While on a map it appears to be just west of the interstate, that road isn’t an exit. To the east, it’s only five miles to Dade City, though the “city” is definitely more of a small town – population 6,510.
But the locale offers a taste of country romanticism, as well as a more practical purpose: Its close proximity to fertile farmlands provides ingredients that often arrive still warm from the sun, moist dirt clinging to the just-pulled roots.
This little restaurant at a crossroads in Pasco County is the creation of Curtis and Rebecca Beebe, who launched this new career together in 2010. The venture was a gamble given their lack of formal culinary training or professional experience in the restaurant industry.
But they had a clear vision of what they were creating and have never looked back.
“It has felt right all along. There have certainly been frustrations and setbacks, but we are committed,” Curtis says. “Failure is not an option.”
The couple tried things out initially by organizing a series of pop-up dinners at various locations within the area. The food was a huge hit, with diners willingly paying $30 for seats at the transient tables.
It soon became clear that the next step was to go from a test kitchen of sorts to a permanent site. They found that site in a 1950s house that had previously been converted to accommodate a commercial kitchen and just happened to be surrounded by open fields and fruit trees, the origin of the restaurant’s name.
The floor plan remains authentic to the original house, with smaller rooms offering privacy and a large, family-style table within view of the kitchen. Walls sectioning off parts of the restaurant are painted with pops of color and the decor is an eye-pleasing array of antiques and memorabilia. A timeless touch, a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard displayed in the main dining room, notes dishes, descriptions and dollar amounts for the latest servings of soups, salads, entrees and desserts.
Despite opening during a sluggish economy, the couple never considered cutting corners when designing their dream, instead offering a white-table-cloth experience within a cordial, convivial setting.
A Florida Food Lineup
And the ever-changing, always intriguing menu? It reads like a roll call of Florida’s finest, freshest foods. Fried green tomato Caprese salad, Apalachicola flounder stuffed with oysters, or a burger made with grass-fed beef and topped with Winter Park Dairy’s Florida cheddar, just to name a few. Each dish celebrates this state’s rural roots, featuring locally sourced pork and beef, handcrafted cheeses, organic greens and hormone and antibiotic-free chicken and duck eggs.
Initially, Curtis served as the restaurant’s sole chef, tapping into the cooking skills he learned from his mother, a sophisticated palate developed while traveling the world as a computer consultant and his personal passion for truly flavorful food. Eventually a team of talented chefs was formed to keep up with the flow of food prepared on-site at the 40-seat restaurant.
Current culinary pro Chef Patrice Murphy works collaboratively with the Beebes to manage the demands of Wednesday through Monday nightly dinners (including family-style feasts two days a week), Sunday brunches and monthly, seven-course wine events. Murphy’s name may be familiar to Tampa Bay diners due to her prior positions with The Refinery in Seminole Heights and South Tampa’s SideBern’s before working with the renowned chef Susan Spicer, owner of several New Orleans restaurants
Another Local Spot
Pearl in the Grove is thriving, building a following of loyal fans willing to drive from as far south as Sarasota, east as Orlando and north as Ocala to sample its locally sourced, seasonally fresh, crafted-by-hand dishes.
And, now, the success of their first restaurant has spawned a new addition for the Beebes in nearby San Antonio. A century-old building that formerly housed a grocery store was gutted and renovated into Local Public House, a gastropub with a menu following in the fresh-first footsteps of its older sibling, but at more modest prices and in a comfortably casual atmosphere.
“We want to build a place where grownups can linger over a good glass of wine and enjoy food that they can trust. We plan on engaging the same suppliers that we use at the Pearl and devoting the same attention to detail,” Curtis adds.
As their fresh-food focus expands in the region, Curtis Beebe acknowledges the accomplished culinary team may grow to free him to focus more fully on enhancing the overall guest experience.
“We want to keep evolving and improving. Rebecca and I live here. We know the names of people who dine here and hug them as they come in.”
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Work up a bit of an appetite before you head to Pearl in the Grove by spending the day in downtown Dade City.
Homegrown and locally-owned best describes the collection of antique stores, restaurants, clothing boutiques and other small businesses clustered here.
Pull into one of the many free parking spaces on the walkable blocks fanning out from Meridian Avenue and 7th Street, and embark in any direction to discover buildings dating back to the early 1900s, restaurants proudly proclaiming a century of service and quaint shops like the quilt store that boasts about its friendliness rather than products or prices.
Be sure to bring along comfortable shoes for walking and an ample appetite for sampling fried green tomatoes at A Matter of Taste Café (amatteroftaste-dc.com), enjoying food and fashion at the landmark Lunch on Limoges (lunchonlimoges.com) or tantalizing baked goods at Betty Cakes (bettycakestampabay.com).
With its stately courthouse sitting proudly amidst these many merchants, visitors may be enticed to easily explore the past of this picture-perfect spot by enjoying a self-guided Historic Dade City Walking Tour traversing several blocks and transcending several centuries.
If you’re visiting on a weekday, as you head out of town toward “the Pearl,” pay the Florida Kumquat Growers Association a visit. Those who drop by during the season (roughly November through April) can see the groves, watch the tiny, tart-tasting fruits being sorted in the packinghouse, or stock up on locally crafted soaps and candles and zesty salsas, marmalades, marinades and salad dressings, all featuring kumquats.
Dade City Chamber of Commerce (free Downtown Dade City Guide, Historic Dade City Walking Tour or other information), 14112 8th Street, Dade City, 352-5687-3769, dadecitychamber.org
Kumquat Growers Association, 31647 Gude Road, Dade City, 352-588-0544, kumquatgrowers.com