Do you like the big city? Chicago and Toronto are the most populous places I’ve visited. I was in each for a couple of days. I enjoyed myself.
And then, I was quite ready to go home. That’s my consistent experience with a truly big city. Visit? Love it. Stay? Y’all can have it.
However, looking around downtown Washington, Indiana (population 11,509) about five years ago, I began to realize that some places may have gotten too small for me too. I’d eaten at Amish-owned meat-and-threes for two days—delicious; just low burnout threshold—and found myself wondering “reckon how far it is to a Vietnamese place?” (Probably Evansville. About 60 miles one way. Too far.)
Epiphany: I’m never living anywhere truly small, because I’m never living terribly far from a Vietnamese restaurant.
Vietnamese food gets in your soul. I never thought anything would unseat my love for southern Italian, but on about my third trip to a Vietnamese restaurant in 2002, I had a new favorite cuisine. The flavor fusions are simply spectacular.
One manifestation currently exploding in popularity is the Vietnamese sandwich, also known as bánh mì. (Actually that’s a Vietnamese term for any kind of bread, but has come to be mostly interchangeable with a specific sort of sandwich served in a baguette.)
Yep. French bread. Colonialism. Fusion.
Lea, the boys, and I recently had lunch at Pearl Vietnamese & Hawaiian Subs, in a shopping center on Jeff Road just south of Blake Bottom. The centerpiece of the menu is the classic bánh mì, with freshly pickled carrot, jalapeno pepper, cilantro, cucumber, house mayonnaise, and pâté. As the star you can choose barbecue pork, lemongrass chicken, a vegetarian option with tofu (and omitted pâté), and several other variations.
I chose the special combination, with ham, head cheese, and pork roll, primarily because it’s sort of the “flagship” Vietnamese sandwich. (In my experience, if a place just offers “Vietnamese sandwiches” without further choice, it’ll be something like that.) The boys went with lemongrass chicken and barbecue pork. All of them earned high marks for fresh and flavorful ingredients, as well as appealingly crisp/chewy bread that was obviously baked very recently.
Incidentally, Hawaiian subs have nothing in particular to do with Vietnamese subs, but do offer an interesting alternative for those with different tastes. They’re served with pineapple, romaine lettuce, and several meat and cheese choices. Lea had a grilled chicken with pineapple that was delicious (indeed, Aaron traded her out of half of it!).
A menu including Hawaiian subs is also responsible, I’m confident, for the inclusion of Spam as a choice. Spam is huge in Hawaii. I’m not so sure about Vietnam, but it’s already there in the restaurant, so you can get it on a Vietnamese sandwich too!
All subs are $4-6, and you can add a fountain drink and a bag of chips for $1.69. That makes Pearl a highly compelling alternative to fast food. Spend the same money and time, yet get something significantly better for you and far more interesting? That’s a lot of wins.
Bubble tea — black tea with tapioca boba — is available in several flavors, as is Vietnamese coffee. The fruit boba with jelly pearls is also tasty & refreshing. Both hot & sour and egg drop soup is available, but not on Sunday, and guess what day we went? I understand from a fellow diner that the hot & sour soup is excellent. We’d have been back anyway, but there’s another reason.
Pearl’s Kid’s Menu & Amenities
The dedicated children’s menu includes ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, or grilled cheese, with choice of chips or cookie. Highchairs are available. Restrooms are clean single-seaters without changing tables.
Pearl has a fast casual model, and everyone with whom we interacted was cheerful and efficient. A pleasant bonus is that it won’t break the bank. The four of us had a great lunch, including one bubble tea (for a photo and curiosity satisfaction), for $31.
If you’re new to Vietnamese food, Pearl is a great place to expand your horizons. If you’re already a bánh mì fan, that’s the real deal sitting innocuously in that shopping center across from Monrovia.
Pearl Vietnamese Subs
Address: 1047 Jeff Road, Suite 9, Huntsville (map)
Phone: (256) 217-8688
Monday through Saturday 10:30 am – 8 pm
Sunday 11 am – 4 pm
Pearl on Facebook