To paraphrase the great comedian Jeff Foxworthy: If you know what a poke bowl is, you might be a foodie.
Available at convenience and grocery stores across Hawaii, traditional poke (pronounced poh-keh) is a bowl full of raw fish, rice, fresh vegetables, seeds and any number of other random ingredients. Over the past couple years, poke has popped up on the menus of just about every New American restaurant in town.
Given the possibility that poke could be a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad, it might seem foolish for the owners of Fresh Catch Poke Co. to base an entire restaurant concept around the dish, but the same thing was said about lattes and Starbucks, and that seemed to have turned out okay.
On a recent visit to the new Williamsville restaurant, co-owner Mike Tobin told me his team is actually betting on poke as a fresh, healthy alternative to other fast-casual sauce-and-cheese merchants that offer meals for around $10 a pop. Based on the two poke bowls I was given samples of, it seems like the Fresh Catch concept is a pretty safe bet.
The FCPC bowl I had was packed full of trawler-fresh tuna, salmon, edamame, green onions, cucumbers, and watermelon radishes. Fried onions, toasted coconut and flying fish roe provided a hard crunch that contrasted nicely with the slippery seafood and crisp vegetables.
The Aloha bowl was similar but included some flavor curveballs in the form of palate-cleansing pickled ginger and a tiny nest of seaweed salad that was as hearty as it was briny. Both bowls were filling, but not the gut bombs that they might seem to be.
Customers can go with one of Fresh Catch’s eight signature bowls or they can build their own, in the same way you can go signature or build-your-own at the Lloyd Taco Factory located next door. For those who are averse to raw seafood, tofu and grilled chicken are also available. Signature bowls and build-your-own bowls start at $11. Deluxe bowls cost $15.
“I set out to get in that price range to provide a healthier alternative (to other fast-casual restaurants),” Tobin said. “I’m a big seafood guy and I try to err on the side of healthy eating. You know it’s really tough to eat seafood at a price point that’s accessible to the masses. Most people can’t sit down and spend 25, 30 bucks to eat a seafood meal every day.”
A generation ago, people in Western New York might have thought selling raw fish in a bowl is a batshit crazy idea. But now that you can buy sushi 24/7 at Wegmans and other grocery stores, the idea of a raw fish restaurant actually makes a lot of sense: Poke is the next logical step after you become a sushi eater.
Tobin said the biggest concern he’s heard so far is around freshness. With the nearest wild tuna swimming hundreds of miles away, it’s a pretty legit concern.
“I’ve researched this a lot,” Tobin said, launching into a byzantine scenario. “What’s the definition of fresh fish? If the boat is out at sea for two weeks because they have to fill a quota, then the boat comes back, the fish gets processed, it gets shipped and the distributor delivers it to you – is that really fresh?
“The tuna and the nairagi, which is marlin, is coming right from Hawaii and we get it three times a week. We’re working with a supplier that has six boats. They go out every day. They ship it right from their dock to us, and its delivered from FedEx the following day.”
Anyone wondering where Fresh Catch gets their fish from simply has to look at the giant map mural on the restaurant’s wall, where the ingredient origins are clearly demarcated with little icons.
Fresh Catch also has wine and local beer available, as well as macaroons and juices from local producers. The restaurant is still in soft opening phase and Tobin said the initial reaction has been great.
“We’re still tweaking some processes as far as workflow,” he said. “But overall, everyone was ecstatic with the flavors, the quality and how fresh everything is.”
He added that plans for Sunday brunch are currently being considered and people looking to keep up to date on that news and more should follow the restaurant on social media.
With a kid’s menu, vegetarian options, low-carb options, a wide array of refreshing beverage options and the full bar over at Lloyd’s next door, Fresh Catch Poke Co. is the kind of fast-casual restaurant you can build plans around or just head to for a quick bite, and we’re super into it.
Fresh Catch Poke Co.
5933 Main St Suite 101, Williamsville, NY 14221
Type: Fast Casual
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday CLOSED