Welcome to Poké in the Rear. Now that you’ve found it, you’ll be back.
The name may be whimsical (a play on the tongue-in-cheek adage, “liquor in the front; poker in the rear”), but the restaurant’s creator, Grant Portier, takes the dish — its ingredients and preparation — as seriously as the Hawaiian culture that has been serving and celebrating it for generations.
Poké in the Rear is located, quite literally, in the comfortable rear courtyard behind the “Aquaplex” compound, 711 Duval St., which includes Aqua Nightclub, Sidebar, 22&Co. martini bar and now Poké in the Rear.
Key West architect Michael Ingram owns the compound, while Portier handles Poké in the Rear with Chef Alex Marineanu. His wife, Jenn Stefanacci Portier, is the gifted mixologist behind 22&Co.’s martinis and other adult concoctions, many of which are made with edible glitter for a little extra shine in the spirits.
There’s also glitter in the seaweed salad at Poké in the Rear, and a full bar as well as table service in the open-air courtyard.
“We opened Sept. 3, and it’s been amazing. I really think this concept fills a void and was the missing piece from the Aquaplex,” Portier said. “When Michael Ingram approached me about what to serve in the rear courtyard, I knew immediately that I would do poké. And the day after we decided, Michael started construction, building the little hut at one end of the bar. That’s where all the magic happens.”
But first, let’s start with the pronunciation.
The Hawaiian dish traditionally made from diced cubes of raw fish (usually tuna) is pronounced “poh-kay.” It rhymes more closely with “OK” than “joke.”
“In Hawaii, poké is made with a yin-yang philosophy of balance and contrasts,” said Portier. “The rice is hot, the fish is cold. There’s sweetness and spice. There’s the crispness of fresh vegetables and the softness of the rice and fish. Every sauce we use in our poké bowls is homemade and we only use the freshest possible ingredients. The colors are so bright, you eat it with your eyes first.”
Poké in the Rear offers a collection of poké bowls made with various types of fish, vegetables and spicy seasonings. “We also created a bowl made with crispy chicken thighs for those who don’t eat fish,” Portier said.
The colorful bowls are vividly arranged over gourmet rice that’s perfectly cooked, and in addition to the fish or chicken, include watermelon radishes (they really do look like watermelon), starfruit from Portier’s own tree, seaweed salad, green onions, nori, sesame seeds, cucumbers and a host of other goodies.
Poké in the Rear is open daily starting at 11:30 a.m.
“We’re open until we’re slow,” Portier said. “We serve food, usually until 10:30 or 11 p.m., but Chef Alex was here until 2 or 3 a.m. one morning.”
Stefanacci Portier added that the lighter poké bowls are the perfect lunch, dinner or late-night dish.
”Not everyone wants pizza or fried foods when they’re out late at night. Some people still want something fresh and healthy,” she said.
And in an homage to the performers at Aqua Nightclub out front, all dishes are named for Key West’s incomparable drag queens, from the Inga to the Elle, the Devereaux to the Beatrix.
“Those girls have become some of our best marketers,” Portier said. “When they’re on stage and recommending the dish that bears their name to the audience members, that’s huge for us.”
There are two entrances to Poké in the Rear (three if you cut through the nightclub).
“Most locals in the know come in via the Angela Street parking lot because the public city parking lot is right across the street,” Stefanacci Portier said. “But we’ve completely upgraded the entrance off Duval Street, which is down the little lane called Tabby Way.”
An eye-catching mural on the side of Aqua Nightclub catches the attention of Duval Street pedestrians and a folding sandwich board sign “has paid for itself a hundred times over,” Portier said. It directs folks down Tabby Way, through the lighted tiki torches and into Poké in the Rear.