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Pear King

Rodney Worth has another hit with the Prickly Pear, and he’s hungry for more.


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Photography by Sara Remington

Standing on the back patio of the Prickly Pear Cantina, Rodney Worth is talking about his new Mexican restaurant’s upcoming brunch menu. As he ticks off the menu items, this gregarious restaurateur gets more and more excited.

“I was working on this chorizo hash the other day,” he says. “Oh my God! It’s going to be good!”

Seeing his off-the-charts energy and enthusiasm, it’s easy to understand how Worth has transformed his original Peasant and the Pear sandwich shop into a growing East Bay dining empire in just seven years.

Worth, it seems, has the Midas touch, possessing an uncanny knack for turning his passion for food into successful restaurants. His fourth in the Danville area, the Prickly Pear combines his love for straightforward Mexican food (carnitas, chimichangas, burritos), with an affordable menu and a casual, fun vibe. Since opening in December in Blackhawk Plaza, it has been packing in diners and is, by all accounts, another success for Worth.

The Prickly Pear Cantina at Blackhawk PlazaAnd if he has his way, there will be more: “We’ve got a couple other concepts that I want to rock.”

More than a couple, actually. Worth quickly fires off several ideas, including a steak house (“I’ve already done the menu”); a New Orleans–influenced Southern bistro (“I love gumbo, and there’s nowhere to get good collard greens around here”); an Italian concept with a wood-fired pizza oven (“I’m a pizza freak”); and an “Asian Pear” concept involving Chinese food in wraps (“My wife’s not too into that one”). All told, Worth says he’d like to eventually lay claim to 10 restaurants.

Standing nearby, his wife, Natalie, shakes her head and admits she tries to be the voice of reason in her husband’s grandiose plans. “That’s Rodney; he’s always go, go, go. He would have 10 already if I said yes to every one.”

Inside The Little Pear restaurantSurprisingly, Worth didn’t start out in restaurants. He worked in the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley until the dot-com bubble burst. With his passion for food always in the background, Worth decided to pursue his dream, enrolling in the culinary program at Diablo Valley College.

The community college’s blue-collar approach proved a good fit with his background growing up in a working-class home in Hayward. It also laid the groundwork for his “peasant” approach to cuisine: hearty, rustic, approachable. Stints at Wente and especially Bizou (now Coco500) in San Francisco refined his technique, and instilled a commitment to local, sustainable ingredients. Coco500 chef/owner Loretta Keller remembers Worth as wide-eyed and green then, with an “overwhelming enthusiasm and good nature.”

With just $58 left in the bank, Worth decided to take the leap, opening the Peasant and the Pear, a tiny gourmet sandwich shop in San Ramon in 2004. A year later, Worth moved the Peasant to its current location on Danville’s Hartz Avenue, where he has built a cult following, dishing out classic American fare that has earned foodie plaudits from outlets such as Zagat and Michelin. He opened a breakfast and lunch spot, the Peasant’s Courtyard, in Alamo in 2009, and last year opened a similar concept, the Little Pear, in Blackhawk Plaza, followed by the Prickly Pear in December.

While his recipe for success is certainly appealing—good fresh food, reasonable prices, and a fun, welcoming vibe—it’s Worth’s personal touch that has been key to building a loyal clientele. He always gets out of the kitchen to meet diners, Tequila in decorated skull bottlesand a look at his restaurants’ Yelp reviews reveals almost as many mentions of Worth as his food.

One such fan is Andy Halvorsen, who says he eats at one of Worth’s restaurants at least once a week, with his wife and three kids. The 36-year-old San Ramon resident says he likes the quality of the food and the comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. “The Tri-Valley really has a warm, open mentality, and I think Rodney exemplifies that,” he says.

The Worths, now settled in Danville with three young children, count many diners, waiters, and cooks as friends. It’s this commitment to the area that might just be enough to turn Worth’s double-digit restaurant dreams into a reality.

“This isn’t a job; this is our life,” he says. “We’re in it as a marathon, not as a sprint. We want to be around forever, you know?”

Contact: 3421 Blackhawk Plaza Cir., Danville, (925) 984-2363, thepricklypearcantina.com.
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily.
Price: Appetizers $6–$10, entrées $9–$14.
Alcohol: Full Bar.


Tacos at the Prickly Pear The menu at Rodney Worth’s new Prickly Pear Cantina was born in the kitchen of the Peasant and the Pear. For the last several years, before the dinner rush, Worth tested out recipes with his fellow chefs, many of whom have Mexican heritage. Below are a few of our favorites.

Street-style tacos / $5
► Inspired by East Bay taco trucks, Worth’s street-style tacos exude the same simple formula: choice marinated skirt steak with chopped cilantro, onions, and lime on top of a double corn tortilla.

Chile verde / $13
► Derived from his sous chef Nacho Bravo’s family recipe, Worth slow braises chunks of pork, smothers them in a tart tomatillo green sauce, and then adds fresh cilantro just before serving.

Prickly Pear margaritas Tamales / $5
► Worth makes his tamales fresh for lunch and dinner, steaming the white corn masa in a corn husk for 35 minutes.  

Margaritas / $8
► Worth is especially proud of his margaritas, which come in pint glasses and feature two-ounce pours of high-quality El Jimador Blanco tequila, house-made agave nectar, and fresh lime juice.


 

 

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