A new restaurant has moved into the West End with the Feb. 11 opening of West End Poke at 750 Summit St., the former location of Alex’s Café. The new quick-service restaurant specializes in poke, Hawaiian marinated fish. It is owned by Dave Hillman and Victor Ramirez.
Hillman is the owner of two Burke Street Pizza restaurants and Quiet Pint Tavern. Ramirez is the executive chef at Quiet Pint.
“I’m always looking for new ideas,” Hillman said. “I was in New York City on one of my travels and stopped at this one place and liked it.”
Hillman said he was drawn to the simplicity of the concept and the fresh flavors.
“And it’s healthy, which my mother likes,” he said with a laugh.
West End Poke offers both traditional and nontraditional poke. And it also offers a handful of snacks, including a few fried items for people who want something a bit heavier.
The core of the menu consists of nine signature bowls that each include a marinated protein and such complements as avocado and pickled watermelon radish over a bowl of white rice.
The Hawaiian Ahi Tuna ($11.95) features diced raw tuna marinated in soy sauce, chile, garlic, sesame oil and green onions. It is served with sweet onion, pickled watermelon radish, avocado, cilantro and sesame seeds over rice.
The West End Salmon ($11.95) consists of marinated raw salmon with cucumber, sweet onion, carrot, seaweed salad, pickled watermelon radish, avocado, green onion, sesame seeds and citrus shoyu sauce.
Other signature bowls feature marinated pineapple chicken, Korean pork bulgogi, grilled shrimp and organic tofu. The highest-priced item on the menu is the Poke Okay Combo ($14.95), which has both tuna and salmon.
In addition to the signature bowls, customers can create their own. They can choose from a base of white rice, brown rice, soba noodles, mixed greens or a combination. They also can choose a protein, sauce, mix-ins and crunchy toppings.
Sauces include aioli made with miso, wasabi or sriracha. Mix-ins include edamame, jalapeno, corn and carrot kimchi. Crunchy toppings include wasabi peas and wonton crisps.
Snacks include Gyoza, or Japanese pork dumplings (6 for $6.95) and Sweet Soy Edamame ($4.95). Spam Musubi ($3.95 for two), a dish popular in Hawaii, consists of marinated grilled Spam and sushi rice wrapped in nori seaweed. The Poke Bake ($8.95) features a warm glaze of miso aioli that caramelizes over marinated tuna. Fried Ahi Tuna ($8.95) is lightly battered and fried diced tuna with sriracha aioli.
West End Poke also offers two tweaks of French Fries. The Volcano Fries ($7.95) consists of hand-cut fries, surimi (imitation crab) salad, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, miso aioli and sriracha sizzle. The Pork Belly Fries ($6.95) have marinated, roasted and fried strips of pork belly with fries, wasabi aioli, furikake (Japanese seasoning blend) and citrus shoyu.
Ramirez said that the appeal of the menu is its simplicity. “It’s fresh and simple with fresh ingredients,” he said. “There’s nothing over-complicated about it.”
All of the sauces are made in-house, he said. The 43-seat restaurant has counter service. It’s designed for quick service, Hillman said, with many of the bowls taking about two minutes to assemble.
Hillman said he may build a patio on one side for outdoor seating and use an existing drive-thru window (a holdover from the building’s days as a KFC) as a pass-through for customers who would like to eat outside.
He also will offer online ordering through West End Poke’s website.
Hillman said he has been interested in this site a long time. “I remember looking at it when the building was for sale at one point, probably 10 years ago,” he said.
The area of West End near Hanes Park has seen a substantial rise in food and beverage offerings. Joymongers Beer Hall opened in 2018, followed by Hops Burger Bar last year, joining such established spots as Café Gelato, The Tap and West End Opera House. Yet to open in the area are Lavender and Honey bakery and café and Smoke City Meats artisanal butchery.
Hillman said this location appealed to him because it’s a freestanding building with sufficient parking and good visibility.
“You can’t say enough about location. This building is right in the heart of a neighborhood. It’s next to a park. People can walk to it,” he said. “We want to be a neighborhood place.”