By Meredith Keller
For the first time since The Pearl brewery shut down operations in 2001, the beer lines are flowing again — at Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery. Housed in the original brew house building at The Pearl, Southerleigh brings San Antonio the best in Southern hospitality, Texas “cross-cultural cuisine” and unique craft beers from Chef Jeffrey Balfour and Brew Master William Les Locke Jr. The partnership between these two stellar professionals, along with such a historic and iconic location, creates the most amazing results, with outstanding food, unparalleled beer options and a uniquely adventurous restaurant space.
Chef Jeff grew up in Galveston, and his Gulf Coast influences shine through in a menu that features Southern specialties like Oxtail Pie and Fried Chicken with Red Eye Gravy, along with Gulf Coast favorites like Blackened Saltwater Catfish, and a traditional Shrimp Boil with Pork Jowl, Corn and Potatoes. The dishes are meant to be shared family style, as are the side dishes, which include Jalapeño Cheddar Grits, Molasses and Butter Baked Beans, Fried Cabbage and Corn Bread. Entrées are hearty and delicious, but in the rare event that you save room for dessert, you’ll be rewarded with the decidedly Southern flavors of Southerleigh’s Strawberry Shortcake, Peach Cobbler or its ever-popular Peanut-Chocolate Bar with Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Chantilly Cream.
The interior itself is worth a visit, as Balfour and his talented architects and designers have managed to repurpose, maintain or salvage most of the original equipment, architecture and features of the storied brewery. Walls were blasted and scraped back to earlier layers — you can even make out the outline of a worker’s wrench, where it must have hung for many generations. Renovation crews painstakingly moved and reinforced the staircase up to the brewing mezzanine to maintain its gorgeous ironworks design. The original grain silo now houses an intimate private dining room for up to twenty guests.
Let us not, however, forget about the beer. The beer program at Southerleigh is outstanding and innovative with fifteen fermentation tanks and ten to twelve beers on tap, not to mention the rotating line up of guest craft beers available. The magnitude of the brewing operation makes Southerleigh the tenth largest brewpub in the country. Les Locke comes to Southerleigh from Branchline Brewing Company, and he is a master at creating unique beers that pair well with anything Chef Jeff puts on the menu.
On my first visit to Southerleigh, I was blown away by the aromatic Conjunction Curry Porter. With hints of cardamom, tumeric and mustard, this English-style porter pairs perfectly with the Deviled Eggs, topped with bacon and onion marmalade, as well as the Wood Fired House Made Pretzels, served with Beer Cheese and Sweet and Spicy Mustard. Other favorites on tap include Southerleigh’s own Dog Ate My Alarm Chocolate Milk Stout and the Parsec SMaSH Ale, a single malt, single hop English Ale.
I made Southerleigh my first stop on Culinaria’s Restaurant Week tour, August 15th through August 29th. During Restaurant Week, local restaurants participate by creating special menus for lunch and dinner at set prices, and I happily forked over $35 for Southerleigh’s offerings. I began with an outstanding and carefully plated salad with shaved radish, sweet onion, soft-boiled egg and chunks of white cheddar. For my main course, I selected the Cracker Crusted Snapper with Bay Shrimp and Crystal Hollandaise Sauce. The fish was very moist with a perfectly salty crust that made me want to sop up the entire plate of creamy sauce. I ended the meal with their Milk Cookies Pot de Créme with Vanilla Cream and chunks of Chocolate Chip Cookies. Thankfully, I managed to get a few bites before my daughter kidnapped and devoured it before my eyes.
As a father of two, Chef Jeff knows how to please his youngest diners. I’m always apprehensive about taking my two kids to “nice” restaurants, but Balfour knocked the kids’ menu out of the culinary playground. Once they were seated, a server presented small baking sheets lined with paper menus describing kids’ fare, along with a roll of pretzel dough and directions on how to twist the perfect pretzel. The dough was then baked and returned to the table, dusted with cinnamon and sugar. I’ve never seen my kids destroy a kids’ plate with so much eagerness. They attacked and finished their Mesquite Grilled Texas Chicken Wings and Panéed Gulf Shrimp, served with a generous portion of garlic mashed potatoes. It was, by far, the best kids’ menu I’ve ever encountered.
The Southerleigh project was an adventurous undertaking for a chef who first thought he wanted to open an intimate bistro consisting of only ten to twelve tables. It stands alone in San Antonio for its sheer size and ambitious brewing operation. However, under the astute guidance of General Manager Phillipe Place, and with a passion for great Southern food and outstanding craft beer, Southerleigh has already secured its spot in history as it carries the tradition of The Pearl into the 21st century.
Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery
136 E. Grayson @ The Pearl
Monday – Thursday 11:00 a.m. to Midnight
Friday 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m.
Saturday 2:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.