Chow Town

Freestyle Poké: 5 things to know about River Market's popular Hawaiian-style cafe

At 11:30 a.m. on a recent Friday, a line of people spilled out the door and onto the sidewalk in front of Freestyle Poké.

Less than a week after opening, the new fast-casual cafe at 509 Delaware St. in the River Market had already lured and hooked landlocked Kansas Citians on Hawaiian-style poke bowls made with raw fish and a rainbow of fresh ingredients, from sushi rice and zucchini noodles to mango and sweet potatoes.

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Freestyle Poké often has a line out the door at lunchtime. The River Market cafe opened in mid-June and is already expanding. Sarah Gish

Owner Jeremiah Dupin knew that locals would dig poke — but he didn't anticipate needing to expand the cafe's kitchen so soon.

"We can't keep up with demand right now," he says. "Kansas City has blown away our expectations."

Now Dupin, a Kansas City native and entrepreneur who previously owned a popular poke business in Dubai, is just trying to ride the wave.

Want to try Freestyle Poké? Here are five things to know before you dive in.

1. It's pronounced POH-kay

Black rice, tuna, jalapeno and mango are just a handful of ingredients used to make poke bowls at Freestyle Poké in the River Market. Shelly Yang

Resist the urge to say "pokey" — the correct pronunciation rhymes with "OK." Remember when we went through this confusion years ago when Chipotle was suddenly everywhere?

2. At first, ordering can be overwhelming

At Freestylé Poke, bowls are made to order. Select a signature bowl if you want some of the ingredient choices made for you; choose a freestyle bowl if you want total creative control.

Bowls come in two sizes: The $9.95 "good" bowl is smaller than the $13.50 "best" bowl. Customers first choose a base from five options: sushi rice, black rice, quinoa, zucchini noodles or romaine lettuce. Proteins come next and include raw tuna, salmon, cooked shrimp, cooked chicken and tofu.

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Freestyle Poké serves a vegan version of a poke bowl called Love Yo-Self. It mixes tofu with shoyu sauce, mung bean, bean sprouts, avocado and spring onion. Add a side of wasabi mayo if you like spice. Sarah Gish

The next step, mix-ins, add color to the bowl. Picture red tomatoes, green snow peas and orange mango. Customers also select a marinade, toppings and sauce.

I froze up at the toppings stage because there were so many options. Did I want masago? Seaweed salad? Togarashi chili spice? What is Togarashi? Do I even like masago, those tiny orange fish eggs that often top sushi rolls?

Freestyle Poké employees recognized the panic in my eyes and patiently guided me through the choices.

"If it's your first time, have a little faith in us," Dupin says. "You really can't mess up a poke bowl."

Beverage options are also plentiful: Choices include kombucha, coconut water, aloe water, local beer, wine and sake.

3. You can't go wrong with a Ride the Wave bowl

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One of Freestyle Poké's most popular signature bowls is Ride the Wave, which combines raw salmon with citrusy truffle yuzu ponzu sauce, avocado, sweet potato and spring onion. Customers choose the base, toppings and sauce. Sarah Gish

The best-selling signature bowl, Ride the Wave, also happens to be Dupin's favorite. It starts with raw salmon marinated in truffle yuzu ponzu sauce. The fish is mixed with avocado, sweet potato and green onion, and served with the customer's choice of base and toppings.

Dupin says he used to eat a Ride the Wave bowl two or three times a day.

Try one and you'll see why: The dish is light yet satisfying, with a citrusy kick from the ponzu sauce. Turn up the heat with spicy cashews and a zig-zag of Sriracha mayo.

4. It's not the only poke place in KC

If Freestyle Poké has you craving raw fish more often, there are more options to explore.

Poke Bar serves the Hawaiian specialty at 6576 North Oak Trafficway. The Aloha bowl ($9.99-$12.99, depending on size) comes with spicy tuna, rice, red and green onion, crispy garlic and sesame seeds.

Poke is also served as an appetizer at Bristol Seafood Grill, 51 E. 14th St. in the Power & Light District, and as a small plate at Bob Wasabi Kitchen, 1726 W. 39th St.

Jeremiah Dupin, owner of Freestyle Poké
Kansas City native Jeremiah Dupin opened Freestyle Poké in the River Market in mid-June. Dupin, an entrepreneur and real estate investor, previously owned a popular poke business in Dubai. Shelly Yang

5. More Freestyle Poké locations are coming

Dupin says he hopes to add a second Freestylé Poke in the Kansas City area this year. After that, he wants to expand the concept throughout the Midwest, to cities such as St. Louis, Denver and Nashville.

He figures any city where people crave nagiri, maki and sashimi would welcome a poke bowl cafe.

"If they like sushi, it's an easy entry," he says.