Munch goes to Pittsburgh Poke

Perusing the annals of this column going back two decades, two pieces of information can be gleaned regarding the content.

1. The writing is often impeccable, as it boasts a distinguished alumni roster that includes luminary Post-Gazette columnists past and present, not one but two current Washington Post staff writers, a former Obama-era White House correspondent, a San Francisco-based cookbook author and editor, an award-winning food section editor, a playwright, and a PR flack for one of the major local health care robber barons.

2. The writing is also rife with bad jokes, terrible puns, over-the-top similes, metaphors and pop-culture references that are often outdated as soon as the ink is dry on the newspaper (or in the time it takes you to download PG NewsSlide — shameless plug ahead! — free on the App Store and Google Play).

It’s in that latter spirit then that I deliver these absolute clunkers, which were part of my actual internal monologue when urged by one of the aforementioned esteemed Munch predecessors that I should check out a new spot Downtown that specializes in the of-the-moment Hawaiian fish salads, poke (rhymes with ‘smokey’) that are served in a bowl.

“Let’s go get poke, man? Like Pokemon Go? More like ‘Poke? Man - Go!’ Amirite? And If you served it at a wedding, would it be Hokey Poke?”

[I sense the shaking of heads and groaning from North Fayette to North Versailles and from West Deer to South Park. I’d show myself out, but I still have to finish this thing.]

Opened in July in a small Liberty Avenue space near Gateway Center that for years has been a revolving door of Asian – mostly Thai – restaurants, it seems to have landed on a winning concept at the right time. Think of it like Chipotle, but healthier and with raw fish. The create-your-own combinations ($10.99 up to $14.99) are seemingly limitless with five grain or green bases, nine proteins ranging from spicy tuna to organic tofu, a dozen fruits and vegetables including carrots and mangos, seven sauces such as sweet wasabi and ginger sesame and another dozen toppings like chili flakes and seaweed salad. There are a pair of house bowls and house “burritos” that come in a wrapped shell of rice ($10.99-$12.99) with anywhere from eight to 18 ingredients each.

Going the choose-your-own route yielded a bowl that was a visually appealing mix of textures and flavors – a bed of quinoa with spicy tuna, bright fresh jalapeno, crispy carrot and radish, sweet corn, spicy mayo, with some heat from chili flakes and a sweet, crunchy almost dayglo-yellow pickled Japanese radish called oshinko.

On another visit, salmon, avocado, mango, jalapeno, a citrus ponzu sauce and tempura flakes — again all over quinoa — was a refreshing and delicious lunch.

Both times, this perfectly satiating, impressively fresh meal came to a grand total of $11.76 with tax. In Downtown Pittsburgh these days, that’s a deal for something that isn’t otherwise fried in grease, laden with cheese or French fries.

Plus, you get my terrible poke joke-ys for free. 

Pittsburgh Poke: 500 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412-338-2199;

Dan Gigler:; Twitter @gigs412


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