The interior of Southerleigh Fine Food and Brewery was abuzz with energy Tuesday and Wednesday nights as the kitchen and waitstaff went through the paces of the first preview dinners at the Pearl‘s newest restaurant.
Timed seatings made by reservation resulted in an especially busy Tuesday evening – during which General Manager Philippe Place monitored the activities of his new staff closely. A high-profile veteran of San Antonio’s culinary industry, Place made the rounds, talking with every customer about their dining experience and Southerleigh itself.
“This helps us address issues before we get to opening night,” Place said, referring to Thursday evening’s soft opening.
Southerleigh is already booked Thursday night. With Easter approaching and expectations already high for the new Pearl venture, Place encouraged placing a reservation to get a seat during its opening week.
But on Tuesday night, Place was enthusiastic while talking about the restaurant and what it offers to the community. Southerleigh has a unique locale inside the original, iconic Pearl Brewery building, which dates back to the late 1800s. Place, talking with two customers, smiles as he places his hand on some of the exposed original interior masonry.
“You can feel the history. It’s wonderful to see new life in this building,” Place said.
Excitement for Southerleigh’s launch among local foodies and craft beer enthusiasts has been building since early last year when the principals of Southerleigh’s first announced their plans to work together on this new culinary enterprise.
The principals include Chef Jeff Balfour, recently of Citrus at Hotel Valencia, and William Les Locke, former heard brewer at Branching Brewing Co. Place previously owned Coco Chocolate Lounge and Bistro, and helped to open Sustenio at Hotel Eilan Resort and Spa.
With a design from Austin architects Clayton & Little and Austin interior designer Joel Mozersky, Southerleigh’s layout and look pay homage to the history of the original Pearl Brewery building while carrying a modern atmosphere.
Some of the interior dining walls feature exposed brick and masonry, as well as wooden support beams and posts. The ceiling above the dining area contains visible parts of the old brewing system.
The rustic feel, based on the preservation inside the old brewhouse, complements the new hardwood floors, tables, booths, bar and other modern finishes. Diners can easily peer into the kitchen. There’s also bar and patio seating.
According to Place, all that’s needed now are cosmetic touch-ups around Southerleigh’s main dining/brewing area, and final work inside one of the original grain silos where a private dining room will be housed. In all, Southerleigh could seat more than 200 people.
Southerleigh’s menu boasts traditional Texan cuisine while reflecting on the region’s tastes of each season. There’s a contemporary emphasis on dishes from the Gulf Coast, a natural as Balfour hails from Galveston, Texas.
Looking at dinner, appetizers – or “firsts” as they’re called – include Third Coast shrimp bisque, fried chicken cracklins served with honey crystal hot sauce, and fried Gulf crab claw with hot pepper aioli.
A regular offering of entrees ranges from quail with oyster stuffing to grilled lamb saddle and belly with braised potato and mint Persillade. There are specialty boiled entrees, including shrimp with pork jowl, okra, corn and potatoes, as well as kettle-steamed mussels with a choice of accompaniments.
Dinner sides include wood-fired Texas vegetables, Texas caviar with crumbled cornbread, and “pig fat” pull-apart rolls. The dessert offerings feature Banana Foster crème brulee, wood-baked apple pie, and peanut-chocolate bar with salted caramel ice cream.
Place said Balfour and his team – and to a greater extent, Southerleigh – mean to incorporate a round of Southern hospitality into the entire dining experience at the new restaurant.
“When you come here, we want you to feel at home like family. The food is like comfort food, like what your mom and father cooked and ate when you were little,” Place said.
Place added that even in the process of interviewing candidates for the kitchen or wait staff, he prefers someone who is upbeat about not only their work and Southerleigh’s offerings, but about the history of Pearl and its surrounding area. Waitstaff during the preview dinners showcased their knowledge of Pearl, sharing with patrons tidbits about the old brewery while making suggestions on what menu item a patron might enjoy.
Education about the original Pearl Brewery abounds in Southerleigh. A wall lining the hallway to the bathrooms has images referencing high points in Pearl’s history. The building’s exterior still boasts Pearl’s original business name signage, San Antonio Brewing Association.
“Hospitality is about having pride in your work. If you don’t have pride in your work, it shows,” Place added.
Southerleigh’s menu also stresses the latest in craft beer development The preview dinner began with an offering of a flight of four of Southerleigh’s beer – Conjunction Curry Porter, Darwinian IPA, Belgian Wheat, and Parsec Smash Ale.
It’s the first time since the early 2000s that beer is brewing inside the original Pearl building but it’s not the first time beer is being produced on the former Pearl Brewery complex grounds. The Granary `Cue and Brew restaurant has been making its own beer, including collaborations with other local craft breweries, since 2012.
Southerleigh’s beer is produced in a custom manufactured brewery designed by Portland Kettle Works. The system involves a 15-barrel brew house, six serving tanks, and an extensive firkin/wood barrel-aging program. Southerleigh plans to offer up to 21 different beers on tap. Beer will be sold by glass, bottle or growler.
Southerleigh is the newest addition to a growing San Antonio craft beer industry that just in the last month has seen the opening of Alamo Beer Co. and a Big Hops Growler Station location in the shadow of the historic Hays Street bridge on the city’s near East Side. Established local craft brewers such as Busted Sandal Brewing Co. and Freetail Brewing Co. see Southerleigh as another shot in the arm for San Antonio brewers.
“I think the local brewing industry is growing as much as people want it to,” said Joe Alvarado of Busted Sandal. “Some people may not want to grow their business at a certain pace. Some want to expand more so I think we and the market are growing exponentially in San Antonio.
“I foresee in the next two years at least, another two to five more breweries or brewpubs online, and we still won’t be able to fill the need for craft in San Antonio,” Alvarado added.
Freetail owner Scott Metzger, who opened a second location south of downtown last fall, said San Antonio has plenty of room for growth in craft beer production.
“The local scene in San Antonio has never been stronger. The combination of established breweries continuing to evolve along with start-ups bringing exciting new approaches is going to take us to places we haven’t seen before,” he said.
“That is great for San Antonio’s beer culture as a whole, but also for all of the individual players. We are still such a small part of the overall beer market that we all benefit from the rising tide.”
Place said, in the bigger scheme of things, Southerleigh represents more than the further redevelopment of a once-shuttered business in San Antonio’s central core.
“It’s exciting to be a new addition to this community,” he added.
*Featured/top image: Finishing touches are made to Southerleigh’s hand-painted logo on the historic silos. Photo by Scott Martin.