The Bull and The Pearl: Meet Houston's Latest Hip Pop-Up

They're not recreating the wheel, they're building a new one.

Local Spotlight

McPherson: "The restaurant we're working toward will be steak and seafood."

'I kind of stay away from pretentious food, but I try to bring something a little different to the table," Ben McPherson says before launching into an explanation of his reimagined hush puppy. It's more like abeignet than a dense ball of cornbread, but it retains the sense of the South that McPherson and his partner, Matt Wommack, have embraced.

The two chefs are the masterminds behind The Bull and the Pearl, a series of pop-ups and supper clubs that they hope to parlay into a restaurant sometime in the near future. They met while Wommack was at Goro & Gun and McPherson at Batanga, both part of the Market Square revival downtown. When they started talking about their goals, they realized their plans meshed nicely and set out to begin building a brand for an eventual restaurant.

Ben McPherson, left, and Matt Wommack are building a fan base for an eventual restaurant.
Courtesy of The Bull and the Pearl
Ben McPherson, left, and Matt Wommack are building a fan base for an eventual restaurant.
All this drink needs is a stick of sugar cane.
All this drink needs is a stick of sugar cane.

For now, they're feeding hungry Houstonians at pop-ups, most recently at Paulie's and Good Dog, and monthly supper clubs featuring more upscale menus. Even the more upscale ones steer clear of "pretentious food," though. The most recent supper club meal, on April 15, had a seafood theme and featured dishes like red snapper crudo, gulf fisherman's stew and smoked pork rillettes with shrimp toast.

The "pearl" part of the duo's name refers to the seafood-heavy menu. And the "bull"? That's all steak.

"The restaurant that we're ultimately working toward will be steak and seafood," McPherson says. "Hence, The Bull and the Pearl."

He says the pop-ups are more indicative of what the food at the restaurant will be like, calling it more accessible than what's served at the supper clubs. The supper clubs are ticketed events, RSVP only, often held at locations other than restaurants. McPherson says more emphasis is placed on pres­en­tation at the supper clubs than at the pop-ups, but based on the most recent pop-up, at Paulie's, the restaurant will be serving some good-looking (and good-tasting) stuff, with a focus on local meat and produce.

On the menu was a dish called "biscuits and briskets" composed of smoked brisket and poached eggs atop flaky thyme and black pepper biscuits with green tomato jam. On the sweet side was the chicken and waffle plate with chicken that had been first smoked and then fried in a peppery batter, along with malted pecan waffles and vanilla syrup.

It's the kind of stick-to-your-ribs Southern food that McPherson grew up with. He was born and raised in the deep South. In spite of these Southern and coastal roots, though, McPherson says his style of cooking shies away from the heavy, fried gulf seafood with which many Houstonians are probably ­familiar.

"We want to ditch the whole french fry, dense hush puppy and boring coleslaw thing to make it more modern and more composed," McPherson says. "But we're still using ingredients people are used to from the Gulf Coast."

As for the steakhouse component, McPherson says the meat will involve smaller, lesser-known cuts, as opposed to Texas-size steaks, presented with less fanfare than many of us are used to.

Until they're able to find investors for the restaurant, though, McPherson and Wommack are continuing the series of pop-ups and supper clubs. There aren't any scheduled at the moment because the duo have been so busy with private catering and party gigs. But when the time comes for more dinners and eventually a new restaurant, McPherson is ready.

"The idea is a big, communal, lively, festive atmosphere," he says. "I'm not trying to re-create the wheel; I'm just trying to find a new wheel."

And damn, that new wheel looks good.

Top 10

10 Best Summer Drinks
Quench your thirst and stay cool.

Molly Dunn

During the summer, we all want to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but living in Texas, more specifically Houston, that length of time outside tends to shorten as we get closer to three-digit temperatures. Sure, water can help you stay hydrated and cool off your body, but so do other, tastier cold drinks, such as cocktails, teas and other fruity creations.

Have some fun in the kitchen this summer and whip together a few of these 10 best cold drinks.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Plain iced coffee is delicious, but Vietnamese iced coffee is even more special (and sweeter). You can use a heatproof container with a coffee filter to make one serving, or just brew a dark roast coffee as you normally would. If you're making a Vietnamese iced coffee for one, then steep two tablespoons of coffee grounds (dark roast) in two-thirds of a cup of boiling water for approximately four minutes, then pour the coffee through your filter into another heatproof glass. Next comes the best part: the sweetened condensed milk. It's not the best thing for a summer beach bod diet, but everything in moderation, right? For each serving, add two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk to one cup of coffee. Add ice cubes, and voilà! You have a cafe sua da.

Iced Sun Tea

The special part of the summer is the bright, smoldering, hot sun that is present just about every single day. While the sun makes it possible to cook an egg on the pavement, it can also make the best iced tea you've ever tasted. When I was growing up, my mother always placed a large glass jar outside filled with cold water and tea bags. She let it sit in the sun for about three hours, then placed it in the refrigerator. Even just plain black tea bags create an amazing, perfectly strong tea. Add mint leaves, lemons, peaches, mangoes, or any other fruit or herb after you brew the tea.

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