From Spoon: The return of the sun last week inspired us to load up the dogs and our house guest and head up the coast to Rockland. While the community was bracing itself for the annual North Atlantic Blues Festival, we had something else in mind—seeing what our friend chef Michele Ragussis was up to at The Pearl.
At the end of a pier on Rockland harbor, The Pearl is perfectly situated to be the quintessential Maine waterfront restaurant. Ragussis’ presence in the kitchen, however, means that the great view is accompanied by equally great food, (not always the case elsewhere). Stellar service is another part of the whole package; for her second season at The Pearl, Ragussis has recruited the best and the brightest.
If the name Michele Ragussis doesn’t ring a bell, here’s what you need to know: A finalist on the eighth season of Food Network’s Food Network Star, winner of 24-hour Restaurant Battle and veteran of Chopped (she lost after the entree round), Ragussis is passionate about New England food. All of that TV stuff is cool, but what really matters right now is her Rockland restaurant, which is serving up Maine coastal food, with a few twists, in a professional, we-care-about-what-we’re-doing way.
What we experienced at The Pearl for lunch stood in stark contrast to the dinner we had in what we will diplomatically call another “midcoast community” the night before, where the venue had just as much chance to get it right, but fell short with a huge menu, poor execution and sloppy service. When a chef of Ragussis’ caliber is in the kitchen, it makes a difference.
The three of us started with local oysters on the half shell, clam chowder and The Pearl’s “fish dip,” which on this day was smoked trout. Served with water crackers, it was a delicious nibble with pints of local beer.
We followed up with a traditional and nicely done lobster roll, fried haddock sandwich and an unusual and delicious salad with a deep fried, poached egg over grilled asparagus with crabmeat, shaved Parmesan and olive oil.
There’s nothing especially groundbreaking about what Michele Ragussis is doing at The Pearl (except that deep-fried egg, with its perfectly runny yolk, is pretty exceptional). But in addition to her effusive personality, it’s that old chestnut, “attention to detail,” that sets her —and the restaurant—apart from the summertime crowd.