Food Fight takes a healthy turn with Poke

Two new restaurants are enlivening Madison’s Monroe Street neighborhood with tasty — and healthy — food.

In the mood for Hawaiian food? You can get a taste of island paradise at Miko Poke, the first of two new health-conscious restaurants recently opened by Madison’s Food Fight chain.

Poke (pronounce POH-kay) is a traditional Hawaiian dish of cubed raw fish, vegetables and sauces served over rice or greens. Think of poke a de-constructed sushi.

Miko is Hawaiian for “tasty,” and the name fits: The restaurant has already met with significant success since its Aug. 25 opening serving tasty poke to hungry Madisonians, according to general manager Ben Brady.

“We wanted to try something fast and casual, and poke is an up-and-coming dining trend in a lot of major cities,” says Brady, a former English and math teacher who worked in both Australia and Thailand before returning to Madison and joining Food Fight. “We thought this was a trend that Madison would embrace.”

Poke always starts with a bed of cooked rice or raw greens as a base on which to build, Brady says. Add to that other basics like scallions, white and black sesame seeds and salt and you have a start to a healthy meal.

Popular poke favorites include Hawaii style, which adds cubed ahi tuna, avocado, cucumbers, edamame, poke sauce, garlic chili oil and spicy aioli. Cali Salmon includes raw salmon, as well as avocado, cilantro, radishes, cashews, yuzu, lime aioli and fried shallots.

If raw seafood is not your thing, there is Banzai Shrimp, which blends sautéed and chilled rock shrimp with avocado, oranges, cucumbers and other ingredients. And if you don’t care for seafood, there is Teriyaki Chicken, which combines roasted and marinated chunks of the bird with carrots, radishes, pineapple, teriyaki sauce and scallion ginger aioli.

Bowls come in small ($7.50), medium ($10.50) and large ($14.50). The kitchen offers brown or white rice and build-your-own bowl options. The fish is never frozen and flown in daily, Brady adds.

The restaurant offers sides of seaweed and cucumber salad ($5) and hand-cut Hawaiian purple potato chips ($2.50).

For diehards, there also is homemade Hawaiian shave ice with flavors such as caramelized pineapple, agave hibiscus, mango chile and passion fruit ($3.50 for up to two scoops.)

Miko Poke also may be Madison’s only allergen-, gluten- and dairy-free restaurant, an unintentional advantage that can benefit those suffering from various food-related allergies, Brady says.

“We use gluten-free tamari rather than straight soy sauce,” Brady notes. “That wasn’t the way we started out, but as we went through our tasting process we realized how easy it would be to achieve.”

Miko Poke occupies the smaller bar side of the former Bluephies, another Food Fight restaurant that closed after 22 years. Lines snake out the door almost every night and the restaurant already does a brisk takeout and eat-in business.

Just open: Everly

Healthy eating takes a more formal turn at Everly, the restaurant that occupies the larger, dining-room side of the former Bluephies. It opened on Oct. 31 and shares kitchen space with Miko Poke.

The restaurant — also managed by Brady — offers an equally healthy spin on California-inspired market cuisine with a focus on locally sourced whole grains and fresh vegetables. It does not promise to be gluten-, dairy- and allergen-free, however.

The menu offers a wide variety of sandwiches, salads and big and small plates. Other menu categories include “Vegetables,” “Pasta + Grains” and “Things on Toast.”

The “Vegetables” category includes some of the most interesting sounding dishes, including roasted cauliflower ($6) served with pickled Fresno chiles, red onions, parsley, garlic and lemon; charred carrots ($8) prepared with chimichurri, shallots, parsley, chives and radishes; and roasted beets ($7) served with grapefruit, chives, chervil and orange crème fraiche.

The small plates include baked oysters ($14), steamed mussels ($14) and beef tartare ($14). The big plate items featured pork and white corn grits ($16), pan-roasted salmon ($17) and flat iron steak ($19).

“Our three soft openings went very well,” Brady says. “The Monroe Street neighborhood really turned out for the events.”

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Food Fight is taking a very healthy approach and has Bluephies’ strong legacy in the same spot on which to build.

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