Hawaii has always lured travelers with its exotic beauty and culture. A trip on an ocean liner to Hawaii was the trip of a lifetime before the jet age and it still is today. One traditional food, Poke. has always been popular in Hawaii but now it’s captivating diners on the mainland too. Why is the Poke trend is spreading so quickly? We wanted to know and we jumped at the chance to check out the new quick-serve PokeWorks in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
What is Poke?
Poke which is native Hawaiian for “to cut crosswise into pieces” originated in Polynesia centuries ago as basically a form of salted fish. Chunks of fish were mixed with sea salt, seaweed and generally crushed candlenut which is a staple in south Asian cuisine.
The dish was common in Hawaii but began to take on more of a cult following when Hawaiians began using the more flavorful and colorful ahi tuna as a base for the dish rather than white and grey reef fish.
Chef Sam Choy held his first poke contest in the early 1990s, featuring poke recipes from across the state. The contest helped make the dish more inventive and diverse, and today, Poke is considered the unofficial state food of Hawaii.
Poake on the mainland really began to spread across the country over the last 6 or 7 years. The Pokeworks chain was founded in 2015, and has since expanded to 22 states. The Park Slope franchise is just one of over a half dozen planned for New York City.
The PokeWorks in Park slope is spotlessly clean and brightly lit. Once at the counter, you’ll find a dazzling display of fish and non-fish items to add to your poke.
The menu at Pokeworks is extensive, with both chef inspired poke bowls and an extensive “do it yourself” selection.
The restaurant offers its poke in three forms, the traditional Poke bowl (kale noodle, sushi rice, organic brown rice, or quinoa); on a Poke salad (fresh romaine and spring mix); or in a Pokeritto (burrito wrap of roasted seaweed wrap and sushi rice)
After you decide which base you want, pick a protein. There are a number of types: Ahi Tuna; Albacore Tuna; Organic Tofu; Salmon; Scallops; Shrimp or Chicken and tofu) are offered, And you go from there.
What We Sampled:
There are dozens of fruit, vegetable nut and spice toppings. The poke can be dressed with eight different sauces ranging from a lemony fish sauce to a spicy aioli.
As poke novices we might have been overwhelmed by the choices. You don’t have to choose all the ingredients yourself, you can opt for a Poke that’s already curated, and add a few items more if you wish.
We chose the Hawaiian Classic (ahi tuna – green and sweet onion – ogo seaweed – cucumber – chili flakes – sesame seeds – roasted sesame oil – Hawaiian salt – Pokeworks classic sauce)
We also sampled the Sweet Ginger Chicken (free range chicken breast – green and sweet onion – edamame – cilantro – sesame seeds – spicy ginger sauce) poke bowls.
We added noodles to the chicken and sushi rice on the classic.
Veggies and tofu are available as vegetarian options (more are being considered as we write this). There is also a hot miso soup.
In our poke bowls we had ahi tuna in one, and a sort of sous-vide chicken in the other, plus a wealth of fresh vegetables.
Extra toppings such as Sesame Seeds or seaweed salad (to name just two) can be added (we chose seaweed salad)along with a crunch topping (8 choices). We added lotus chips on one poke bowl, macadamia nuts on the other).
The tuna in the Hawaiian Classic was of a very high quality and the poke itself was refreshing and almost creamy.
The chicken-based bowl was very tender, and spicy with some citrus notes. These bowls are very filling but the ingredients are all healthy and fresh. The fried lotus chips that can be added as a topping were — well our notes said, the bomb.
As you can imagine, the more you add the heartier your meal becomes. In truth, we couldn’t finish our Poke bowls, as much as we wanted to! If you don’t have a big appetite, you can share a bowl.
For beverages to accompany your Poke, there is a refreshing mix of healthy mix and match organic teas and soft drinks from all organic Tractor Beverages a small Idaho based producer. We loved the coconut drink which was a lightly carbonated and tasted like fresh coconut water.
At $12 to $15 per serving, the poke from Pokeworks was a bargain. The bowls were more than enough to feed a hungry adult, and they were quite delicious.
If you enjoy Spam you’ll love the Spam based appetizer (Spam is popular in Hawaii) as it’s unique and also salty and substantial. This delicacy is almost a meal in itself.
Franchisee Michael Pennartz will be opening a number of locations in New York over the next couple of years. If there is a party in your future, you can ask PokeWorks to cater it.
Michael’s goal is to work with the communities where his restaurants are located to help teach children (and adults) about nutrition and to become an integral part of the cultural base of each neighborhood.
You don’t have to go to Hawaii to get a taste of paradise! We wish Michael luck in this endeavor, and heartily recommend Pokeworks in Park Slope for a tasty and healthy quick bite.
Visit PokeWorks in Park Slope 258 7th Ave Brooklyn, NY 11215 (716) 404-3080. Store Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00 am – 9:00 pm. For more information on PokeWorks visit the website http://www.pokeworks.com/