It's almost poke time, Fort Lauderdale.
The Poke House has announced it will be opening October 3, and when it does, a taste of the nation's hottest fast-casual trend will have officially made its mark on Broward County in all its raw fish glory.
Opening in the Victoria Park Shoppes at 666 Federal Highway the first Monday of October, the new eatery will soon be giving diners what cofounder Memphis Garrett calls a "new take on poke," the traditional Hawaiian marinated seafood bowl that's already become a well-established trend in eateries across the West Coast.
As former director of operations of SBE Hospitality (the company behind SLS Hotels, Katsuya, and Hyde), Garrett says he first got the idea while vacationing in Maui with longtime friend and the Poke House business partner Artie Baxter several years ago.
"We literally ate poke every day, and once we got back to L.A. and saw these fast-causal poke places popping up everywhere, we knew it was time," says Memphis, who began planning the Fort Lauderdale restaurant one year ago. "Our idea is to bring poke to the next level, so we're putting a chef twist on it — that foodie element to where people will be willing to take the drive 30 to 40 minutes to get some poke."
To make their vision a reality, the duo — including Baxter's wife Sara — have joined forces with area restaurateur David Cardaci (Whole Enchilada, Rhythm & Vine); Jason “Archie” Armstrong (Avoir Caviar and the Distinct Company, Inc.); L.A.-based Peter Walsh; and actor A.J. Buckley, best known for his role as Adam Ross on CSI: NY. Together, the team already has plans to open additional outposts throughout South Florida, including possible locations in South Beach and Boca Raton.
The Poke House will allow patrons the ease of ordering on the go with the option of enjoying their meal in the custom-designed dining room. With seating for up to 45, the restaurant aims to have a casual, contemporary feel. Sea-blue ceilings, neon signage, parrot wallpaper, and communal surfboard tables will be paired with leather banquettes and a short-back bar with soft lighting for the perfect mix of casual and cool.
"You can walk the line and order your bowl, but you can also order a bottle of wine and sit down to enjoy your meal," says Garrett. "We wanted to up the ante on every aspect of the experience, from how you order your meal to how you'll be enjoying it."
Guests will begin their culinary experience by choosing from a selection of proteins including tuna, salmon, Hamachi, and tofu. From there, diners can build their own bowl ($8 and up) by selecting a base of steamed white rice, quinoa, or kale and then choosing from over 20 sauces and toppings including chipotle mayo, aji amarillo lime, crispy lotus, black radish, and more.
Those seeking direction in their poke experience can opt for one of about a dozen signature bowls ($8 to $15) including the West Coast-inspired Venice Beach California poke (marinated in salsa verde, served with avocado, baby heirloom tomato, red onion, crispy lotus, and seaweed nori, served over white rice); the Coco Beach Florida poke (marinated in spicy passionfruit salsa fresca, served with crushed plantain chips, pineapple, orange, Fresno peppers, and quinoa); the Lima Beach Peruvian poke (marinated in aji amarillo lime emulsion, tossed with red onion, sweet potato, avocado, and cancha, atop green rice); and the Papaichi Beach Korean poke (marinated in kimchi dressing and served with white sesame seeds, kimchi, seasoned crushed cashews, and scallions and finished with yuzu tobiko).
Rather than order your food from traditional servers, the Poke House will give you a more enlightening option: You'll be creating your bowl with professional line cooks and chefs.
"Instead of the 17-year-old high schooler, you'll have a trained chef preparing your food, someone who can tell you everything from where the fish was caught and when it came in to what ingredients pair best with each other."
In addition to poke bowls, the restaurant will also feature unique culinary creations ($8 and up) like poke nachos (pico-marinated fish served atop wonton chips with baby kale, avocado cream cheese, marinated tofu, black radish, and masago); mini tacos (fresh catch served on housemade hard shell with chipotle mayo, purple cabbage, avocado mousse, green onion, sour cream, and red radish); and steamed buns (the daily catch marinated in spicy passionfruit-ginger sauce cushioned in a Togarashi steam bun, topped with kimchi, avocado puree, seaweed nori, and crispy sweet potato).
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If all that raw fish makes you thirsty, a beverage program will offer a large selection of sake, available both on draft and by the bottle; white and rosè wine on draft; and Big Island microbrews from Kona Brewing Company. You can also expect a rotating selection of sake infusions such as mango-habanero sake and charred pineapple sake, as well as specialty sake cocktails.
Garrett said he's most excited about those poke-stuffed steamed buns and about "introducing Fort Lauderdale to more foodie things that they might not be familiar with."
The Poke House. 666 Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale; thepokehouse.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.