What’s Brewing at the Pearl

Cavernous brick buildings that once housed large-scale brewing operations now offer dawn-to-dusk action: shopping, cooking, dining and plenty of Texas beer-brewing history. Add in a bustling farmers market, plus upscale beauty and relaxation stations (think manicure, yoga, facial), and there’s no doubt about it: The Pearl is quite a jewel.

Early mornings, the hottest thing brewing at the Pearl is coffee, roasted locally and served up fresh and fragrant in the brand new Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Bakery Café. The pastries are almost too pretty to eat, but you’ll get over that soon enough—one bite and it’s worth it. Meanwhile, you can watch the bakers at work through the window—they’ve been here since 10 last night.

Once you’ve had your first cup, step outside and stroll the fresh produce and meats of the Pearl Farmers Market. Everything here (most of it organic) comes from within 150 miles of San Antonio. You can plan a picnic for later on—perhaps with artisanal charcuterie from the Kocurek family, crumbly goat cheese from CKC farms, a loaf of rustic bread from Sol Y Luna with some fruity Texas olive oil from Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard. For dessert, how about dewy organic tangerines from Orange Blossom Farm—or, if you want a little pampering, Mexican chocolate almond toffee from Ms. Chocolatier—it’s wicked good. Live music from across the parking lot adds to the scene, and La Gloria chef Johnny Hernandez offers cooking demonstrations most weekends. The market operates from 7 am to 1 pm on Saturdays and from 4 to 7 pm on Wednesdays.

Now you have a decision: would you rather discover the colorful history of the brewmasters who brought their craft to Texas from Germany nearly 150 years ago ... or learn how to make a perfect tortilla by hand, just like the Chile Queens who sold food at the Alamo in the 1800s? Either way, you’re set.

Tours of the Pearl grounds are offered at 10 am Saturdays, or you can arrange one any time by calling ahead. You’ll discover how brewer Otto Koehler met his demise (hint—he had a jealous mistress), see an electric railcar from the shortest railroad in the world, and get an education on how to think green and reuse what’s on hand when repurposing historic buildings—the property is LEEDS-certified. Solar panels provide electricity, water is recycled for plantings, and chandeliers are fashioned from defunct brewery machinery.

If you’d rather stir up a little something, head over to the
CIA for a class. (But sign up ahead of time!) It offers 30-week chef-certificate programs, so the kitchens are, of course, state-of-the-art. But it also has classes for regular folks, whether you’re into Sharpening Your Knife Skills, Gourmet Meals in Minutes or Everyday Grilling. Top chefs will show you the ropes in these hands-on classes, and then you get to celebrate your culinary success by tasting your creation. Take-home recipes are provided, so you can continue your prowess in your own kitchen. And the best part? You get to wear—and keep—a CIA apron and chef’s toque.

If you took a pass on the class, you’re probably getting hungry. La Gloria, opened in spring 2010, offers authentic—and delicious—Mexican street cuisine. Introduce yourself to Chef Johnny Hernandez if you can—passion about regional foods from Mexico simply pours out of him, spilling over into the savory fare he serves in this lively, indoor-outdoor restaurant. Start with fresh tortilla chips and aguacte (avocado), then try Ceviche Veracruzano (marinated shrimp, cucumber, red onion and serrano) and maybe Al Pastor (spit-roasted pork served with pineapple, onions and cilantro). To cool things down a little, there’s refreshing, not-too-sweet Agua Fresca. “La Gloria” stands for “The Heavens,” and Hernandez wants you to know that you don’t have to die to get there. Just eat—it’s in the food.

You can’t not-shop the Pearl. Melissa Guerra Tienda de Cocina, fashioned after a Mexican mercada (market), is well stocked with Latin American kitchen items such as etched glass from Mexico, hand-painted ceramics and the largest paella pans you’ve ever seen. But you’ll also find sneakers embroidered in Peru and Loteria jewelry from San Antonian artist Carolyn Dublin. Next door, the Twig Book Shop specializes in local authors, but plenty of other good reads also line the shelves. Need a pair of leopard-spotted rubber boots or a colorful straw bag? Try Adelante, the newest shop in the Pearl, for fun and funky clothing and accessories. It’s the home of the chickie, a faux tank top invented by store owner Marla Mason Ross and featured in a January episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Poor thing, you’ve worked hard today—all that eating and shopping! What you need now is a respite; visit either the Aveda Institute for some outer bodywork, or The Synergy Studio for a deeper restoration. The 60-minute Element Nature Facial at Aveda (30- and 90-minute treatments also available) will have you glowing, and the Essential Pedicure is just the thing to get your toes in sandal-shape. To rejuvenate both body and spirit, step over to Synergy for a late-afternoon yoga, Pilates or African dance class—drop-ins welcome for just $15—or, for complete relaxation, schedule a massage or Reiki session.

Beautiful things are happening in an old, grain-drying building at the Pearl. Osteria il Sogno is chef Andrew Weissman’s latest venture. Sumptuous Italian appetizers fill the antipasti bar—perfect with a glass of Chianti. You could make a meal out of just that, but why would you, when you can feast on the likes of Capesante al Limone (scallops and shrimp with caper berries and lemon sauce) or creamy risotto with squid and tender sweet peas? You’ll want to get there early unless you don’t mind a wait: they don’t take reservations, and locals begin lining up at 5:30 for the first seating.

For more information about the Pearl complex (200 E. Grayson, 210.212.7260), see www.atpearl.com.

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