WILMINGTON — Nakedfin Poke Bowl, a new restaurant opening next month, will bring the popular Hawaiian Poke bowl to the Port City. But first things first: what is a poke bowl — and how do you say it?
The traditional Hawaiian dish is pronounced “POH-kay” (like the first half of “po’ boy” and the second half of “okay”). It is definitely not pronounced like the once disturbingly popular Facebook function.
Poke originated with Hawaiian fisherman seasoning and marinating the scrap-cuts of fresh caught fish; over time, the meal absorbed a heavy Japanese influence, including soy sauce, seaweed salad and nori. It has evolved over time into something like a deconstructed sushi roll, with sashimi-grade fish served over rice.
Husband and wife team Alyssa and Ritchie Hart have been fascinated with the dish for about a year. Ritchie had been the manager of a Gold’s Gym in Wilmington for years when he decided he wanted a change.
“I had basically gone as far as I could there, and I had been thinking about a restaurant. I saw a picture of a Poke Bowl on Instagram one day and I was hooked. I spent probably about six months researching it,” Ritchie Hart said.
Alyssa, a Wilmington native, said she loved the dish’s simplicity and felt it was the perfect fit for a beach town.
“I had worked in the restaurant industry for years and gotten out, but (Ritchie) got me back in with this,” Alyssa Hart said. “It’s fresh and simple, it just really seemed like the perfect food to take to the beach, and I was surprised we didn’t have one in the area.”
The Harts secured a space on Racine and Eastwood, and plan to open a simple storefront geared mainly towards take-out orders.
“We’ll have a 12-foot surfboard as a communal table, and some counter seating, room for about 20-25 people total, but we’re mostly looking at quick businesses lunches and people headed to the beach,” Ritchie said. “We plan on everything being in that $8.95 to $11.95 range, just perfect for lunch.”
Ritchie added that most menu items would be served in to-go containers, but that all the packaging and cutlery would be “eco-friendly, recyclable and made from recycled materials.”
Nakedfin’s menu will be built around a “build your own bowl” concept, Ritchie said. Planned options include rice, kale, mixed greens and taro root as a base, and toppings like seaweed salad, nori, avocado and a variety of vegetables. Then there’s the heart and soul of the Poke bowl — seafood.
The Harts plan to offer tuna, salmon, crab and shrimp, and have been working with both local seafood vendors and international vendors to source the best options.
“It’s important to us that we’re staying true to the traditional Hawaiian dish, but also adding some Carolina touches,” Alyssa said. “So, you’ll see us sneak some local things in, things like fried onions, or local shrimp, our local take on the dish.”
Ritchie said that, down the line, they may add wine and beer to the menu but, for the time being, Nakedfin will serve infused teas and plans to have Kombucha on tap.
The Harts plan to open Nakedfin in mid-September, but are already thinking about other locations.
“We have to get this one up and running,” Ritchie said. “But if people like it, and they’re into it, we’d like to open two more — one in the Porters Neck area and one downtown.”
On the map: Nakedfin Poke Bowl is located at 420 Eastwood Rd, between Racine and Charter Drives.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.