IMAGE BY MIKE SHWARTZ
On a Saturday morning just after 11am, Albert Pisani is peeling the translucent skin off onions he sliced the night before. He put them through a multistep process: rinse, dip in batter, and toss in breadcrumbs. He makes four onion rings at a time.
“We’re a dive bar and we represent the ’70s and the ’80s,” says Pisani. “I want to keep some of the food like that.”
In September, Pisani reopened the long-unused but sparkling kitchen at Drinking Fountain, a decades-old Jamaica Plain bar. He named it Hidden Pearl, after his mother Nancy Pearl Pisani, a career diner cook.
Mother and son both tend bar at the Drinking Fountain (“My little motto is ‘Entertainment first, drinks second,’” said Albert), where old framed newspapers announce victory in World War II and drink prices are handwritten. Regulars build jukebox playlists, enjoy two pool tables, and seize any opportunity to talk about their kids. Off-duty bartenders are often in for a drink. A Keno agent takes numbers. All of them love the menu Pisani and his mother put together.
The burger ($7) is seasoned with ginger and Sriracha (“Eight ounces of hamburger meat tastes disgusting if it’s not seasoned a little bit, in my personal opinion,” said Pisani). The French fries ($3.75) are perfectly soft/crispy/salty. Dipping sauces include creamy roasted sesame ($0.50). He may add chili, goulash, and Arizona-style hot dogs.
At the time of this writing, both the lone Chowhound reviewer and the lone Yelper called Pisani’s onion rings ($4.75) the best they’d ever had. The chicken tenders ($3.50 for two, $10.50 for ten) are the best I’ve ever had.
“I make the chicken, he makes the onion rings,” said Nancy.
Albert, an Afghanistan war veteran who lives in an apartment upstairs, started working at the bar because he was broke. He asked the owners, sisters Linda Hardy and Elizabeth McDermott, if he could clean. They said yes. Pisani moved up from janitor to Keno, and Keno to bartender. He started pushing to reopen the kitchen, but the owners were reluctant. One afternoon he turned the TVs on to an episode of “Bar Rescue”. The featured bar was failing because it didn’t serve food.
Soon after, the sisters let him open the kitchen. Pisani’s eyes water up whenever he talks about the chance they’ve given him.
The Hidden Pearl is not on social media. It had no grand opening. It’s a new addition to an old place.
“One of my guys comes in and gets two hot dogs with extra crispy fries. That’s not how we make them, but I’ll make them for him like that,” said Pisani.
THE HIDDEN PEARL AT DRINKING FOUNTAIN. 3520 WASHINGTON ST., JAMAICA PLAIN. 617-522-7335.