Rhode Island is a small state — the smallest, in fact, which you all already knew — but here’s another example. My first encounter with Becca Brady and Tiffany Ting, co-founders of Hometown Cafe and Poké, was not at their brand new brick and mortar location, or even when they began serving poké bowls from a food truck in September of 2017, but at a friend’s birthday pajama party. I specifically remember them, both because they wore matching animal onesies, and also because they talked about owning a food truck and I thought, “How can two women who barely look older than 21 already have a food truck?”
We wrote about their food truck last February, and now just 12 months later, I’m astounded at what these women have accomplished (it really puts my New Year’s resolutions to shame).
In case you are wondering why I keep adding an accent mark to a word that Facebook popularized, poké (pronounced, “po-kay”) is, in fact, a native Hawaiian dish that has moved from the west coast east. The first time I ever tried it was a decade ago, a traumatizing experience because I thought the diced cubes on top were dark chocolate and not marinated chunks of raw tuna.
I will spare you that moment of shock: poké bowls are best described as bowls of deconstructed sushi, particularly with ahi tuna, as well as salmon and shrimp. What if you’re not a sushi lover? No problem. They offer “Chicken Works” with — you guessed it — chicken, and “Veggie Works” with tofu, or you can Build Your Own bowl.
Built inside the historic Billy Taylor House (their rent goes to support the eponymous nonprofit organization), a noticeable transformation took place as the finishing touches to their cafe were added late last fall: the red-and-white exterior brick walls were painted black, a sharp contrast to the newly finished white trim windows and door frames. A wooden bench and flower box suddenly appeared on the sidewalk, with red, purple and gold chrysanthemums. And inside, green potted plants filled each window, offering passersby glimpses of life and color. (I also heard that there’s a back patio, which will be open for outdoor seating in warmer months!) This addition to Camp Street brings a freshness and vitality to the Mount Hope neighborhood, which is consequently also Becca and Tiffany’s home.
I love the interior design. The minimalist style, bright and open, is accented with hanging lights and subtle touches of pink, giving me the feeling of being back in Hawaii. There’s a long community table and small white tables along the back. The ordering counter spans the left side, and immediately upon entering, customers find clipboards for “build your own bowls” and a sign that notifies everyone that it’s a cash-free establishment. They sell Hope & Main products, and they even have a compost bin! The day I visited, Tiffany was in the back corner typing on her laptop, sipping coffee. She stood up to greet me with a big smile.
“Would you like a Nitro Cold Brew? Or a matcha latte?” she asked, and feeling adventurous, I opted for a matcha latte. I’ve found these to be hit or miss, but this was easily the best one I’ve had, the perfect ratio of light frothy milk to matcha tea. As I waited for a friend to join me for lunch, I deliberated over the menu. In addition to six signature poké bowls and a build-your-own bowl, they also serve four toasts, named for the cardinal directions, and an acai bowl — essentially a super fruit smoothie in a bowl, one of my favorite breakfasts in Hawaii.
Considering the options, I began drooling in Pavlovian style just thinking about the Spicy Shrimp bowl and its sriracha aioli, but I wanted to try something new, and I also really wanted a toast. But how does one decide between the “South” toast (ricotta, thick-cut bacon, and honey), and the “North” (smoked salmon, crème fraiche, and microgreens)?
Always choose bacon.
I thought my readers would say so, so I went with the South toast and the Hawaiian Classic bowl, the most popular, because it had a little of everything: Ahi tuna, Atlantic salmon, Hometown Hawaiian sauce, cucumber, onion, crab, seaweed salad, furikake, wonton crunch. I chose as my base a mix of white rice and greens (all bowls come with either white rice, brown rice, mixed greens, or a combo). And because I’d shed so many tears during my deliberation, Tiffany also added a generous drizzle of sriracha aioli to my order, which made my joy complete.
My friend built her own bowl, with salmon, veggies, mango, avocado and a citrus ponzu sauce. After we exchanged wow’s and ohmygod’s and mmmm’s, we settled into silent enjoyment. I couldn’t get over how healthy it all was, and yet how delicious it tasted. Aren’t those things mutually exclusive?
“We wanted to create a place where people could get quick, healthy food to go, and that option didn’t really exist here,” Becca explained. Having spent time in California and Hawaii, the two friends wanted to bring their favorite staples back to Rhode Island.
More than just the great food, however, what I admire about this business is how committed the owners are to sourcing locally, collaborating with other small businesses, and giving back to the community. Tony’s Seafood, for instance, provides their fish and Seven Stars bakery provides their bread; a recent partnership with Rebelle Artisan Bagels resulted in “Hometown Glory,” an open-faced breakfast sandwich; a percentage of sales from their grand opening went to neighborhood nonprofit organizations, such as Camp Street Ministries.
This is a great place to rise with coffee and stay for lunch, or come after a long day of work and get dinner to go. There’s even a happy hour special from 4 – 6pm: save $2 on a bowl and enjoy it with beer or wine.
Even if you live beyond the borders of this Providence neighborhood, you’ll soon want to call this new cafe home.
185 Camp Street; Follow them on Instagram @hometownpoke