Have we come here to praise the Black Pearl's two dining rooms—the Commodore's Room for the fancy crowd and the Tavern Room for the common folks? No, although those are nice. Are we excited about the dockside bar/patio area across the street from the restaurant? Not really, but again, we appreciate that it's there if we ever need it. No, the aspect of the Black Pearl to which we want to direct your attention is an unassuming little shed tucked behind the patio area, from the window of which you can get just two food items: hot dogs and clam chowder. (Update: We heard in 2020 that lobster rolls had been added).
About the hot dogs we don't really have anything to say. But the New England-style chowder is to die for—moderately thick, wonderfully savory with tender small bits of clam, and just the right amount of potato. You can get this same chowder in any of the aforementioned parts of the restaurant, but chowder from this little shack has the distinction of being both convenient and inconvenient at the same time. It's convenient because you just walk up to the window and order it. There's no waiting for a table, there's no time spent deciding what you'd like to eat from a long menu. You hand your money over and you leave with chowder. Really good chowder.
So what's the inconvenient part? Well, you might have thought that you could just go over to the patio and sit down to enjoy your chowder, but there's a sign forbidding you from bringing food from the hot dog and chowder shack into that area. And you can understand why: You would be displacing customers who might spend money on booze and expensive appetizers. So you and your $6.50 cup of chowder are cast out on the pavement, unwanted and unloved. You're forced to take your chowder for a walk, looking for a friendly corner to plant your butt. And therein lies the charm of the hot dog and chowder shack. Purchasing chowder there is like buying a ticket to adventure and mystery. Who knows where your search will take you? Try it and find out!
By the way, the Black Pearl proper was established in an old sail loft shop in 1967 by a guy from Newport named Barclay H. Warburton III. He named the place after his brigantine rig sailboat. So if you thought the name was an homage to that Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you were incorrect. Thomas D. Cullen bought the place in 1974 and his family has been running it ever since.
A couple of relevant anecdotes:
Keith W. on Facebook, July 13, 2015: "The story of that hermaphrodite brig that the restaurant is named for is an interesting one as well. Built at Wickford Shipyard of left over minesweeper lumber from World War II and designed by the Naval Architect and URI professor, Edson I. Schock."
Janice Hanna T. on Facebook, July 13, 2015: "The Black Pearl started as a 1 room pub with a pot belly stove in the middle for heat. On the weekends a performer named Jody sang sea shanties to which everyone sang along."
The Black Pearl is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, except in the dead of winter when it closes from January 7 to March 14.
- Best New England Clam Chowder, Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island, 1991. Best Chili in Newport CountyRhode Island Monthly's Readers' Poll, 1994.
- Best Chowder in Newport County, Rhode Island Monthly's Readers' Poll, 1994.
- Best Chowder in Newport County, Rhode Island Monthly's Readers' Poll, 1995.
- Best Place to People Watch in Summer, Rhode Island Monthly's Best of Rhode Island, 1995.
- Best Clam Chowder, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2003.
- Best Clam Chowder, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2004.
- Best Chef—Daniel Knerr, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2008.
- Best Chowder in Newport County, Rhode Island Monthly's Readers' Poll, 2009.
- Best Clam Chowder, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2009.
- Best Clam Chowder, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2012.
- Best Clam Chowder, Newport Life Magazine's Best of Newport County, 2013.