Restaurant Review: Poke Bros. – Downtown Edition
For eateries, visits from reviewers can be a source of stress. Personal practice has always been to keep visits incognito, creating less stress and also an experience that should be similar to the experiences of other diners.
You know what’s more stressful than a visit from a reviewer? A visit from the Health Department. The Health Department doesn’t do things incognito. It’s right there in the prep area during lunch hour with a City of Columbus name tag. Watching. Waiting.
This is all to say that Poke Bros got the double-whammy in April, with a simultaneous visit from an incognito reviewer and the very cognito Health Department. The event provided good food and good entertainment at the same time.
Poke Bros.’ Gay Street installation is carry-out only. And that means “only.” There are no chairs for lingering, just a line of people patiently waiting to assemble a bowl of poké. It’s not the fastest moving line, but that could have also been jitters from the “extra guest” in the back. Certainly, the Health Department representative tried to keep it on the down-low, courteously attempting to simultaneously stay out of the way and collect required data. But, it’s hard to be completely invisible when (1) You are the tallest person in the joint, and (2) You are industriously taking the temperature of different pots while the rest of the crew self-consciously assembles poké bowls.
So, the poké bowls. Poké now qualifies as familiar food in these parts. Diners choose a base: rice, chips (tortilla chips) or greens. There are proteins which will determine the price of your bowl, options ranging from midwestern-friendly chicken to octopus. Then there are the toppings, such as cucumber, edamame, shredded carrots and wispy surimi. The final station offers drizzles of sauce to compliment the assembled ingredients.
It’s always easiest to begin with the house mixes. They’re listed on a board behind the counter. So first up, the Haole ($10). We picked chips as a base, which means the ultimate outcome is going to be something like exotic nachos. At first, the chips concept is a little unwieldy as there’s no melted cheese to make the toppings stick to the chips, and forks and tortilla chips don’t work well. So, not really knowing the etiquette, best practice seems to be to stab the chips into smaller chunks and mix the whole thing up. That turns out awesome. The chips do contribute a significant corn/salt punch, but you can’t ignore the contribution of the other players: seaweed salad, lush chunks of avocado, and bright, popping mini-globes of masago. There’s ample shrimp involved too — it’s cocktail-quality, tight and dense and sliced in chunks.
There’s also the Shaka ($9). It’s chicken-based, a protein not typically associated with poké options. It’s a busy combo with edamame, shredded carrots, surimi (“crab stick”), cucumber and avocado. We teamed that one with greens, and while it might not sound terribly interesting, the sum is greater than the parts, perhaps credit to the sauces (a soy-based one, and a sriracha aioli).
For something more traditionally poké-y, there’s the Da Kine ($12). It features marinated tuna (Poke Bros. also has regular tuna chunks, but the marinade adds delicious depth), onion, more masago, seaweed salad and ponzu sauce. With rice, the flavors and textures meld together to generate constant fork-to-mouth movements.
Or, by all means, guests can design their own. That seemed to be the most popular option. You can find Poke Bros. at 100 E. Gay St. and online at pokebrostogo.com.