Seasoned Chef Brings Poke Bowl Popup to Haddonfield

Chef Ralph Patrick Fernandez has over 30 years experience in the restaurant business as an Executive Chef and Culinary Director working at notable restaurants such as Moshulu in Philadelphia and Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino. Now running his own hospitality group, he helps open other restaurants by providing consulting on design, kitchen operations, and menu development.

While doing some restaurant consulting in Boca Raton, FL last year, he came across poke bowls and fell in love with them. He had embarked on a healthy journey that saw him losing more than 60 pounds. He attributes his weight loss to eating fresh, clean, and raw meals. Poke bowls fit right into his new healthy lifestyle and diet.

So, when COVID hit, he wanted to create a concept that would appeal to the new restaurant industry (fast take-out/delivery) and something healthy and delicious. He immediately decided poke bowls would tick all of the boxes.

“I just really love poke bowls. They are not only healthy, but quite satisfying and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor,” Chef Fernandez told South Jersey Food Scene.

He launched Poke Xpress as a popup operating out of Denim BYOB at 116 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield. He and Chef David Murray worked together at Denim American Bistro when it was in Cherry Hill. He was a consulting chef in 2019. When he needed a space to create and sell his poke bowls, he turned to Murray.

Murray had temporarily shut down Denim BYOB in August to go on vacation and prepare for reopening in September, which he is hoping will include indoor dining at a limited capacity. In fact, he’s added a new upstairs dining area which will allow for more socially distanced indoor dining. He was more than happy to help his friend Ralph use the restaurant’s kitchen to host the poke popup.

“I couldn’t be happier to see my friend and former chef’s dream become a reality,” said Murray. “A month ago when we launched Poke Xpress out of the Denim kitchen for a one-day pop-up the positive response was so strong, Ralph decided to turn it into something. I will offer as much support as I can and know he will be a welcome addition in town.”

Poke Xpress offers a few signature poke bowls ($14.50) or your can build your own ($12.50) starting with a base, protein, sauce, choice of toppings, crunch, and extras. Base options include white rice, brown rice, quinoa, or a mix of all three. Protein options include ahi tuna, salmon, spicy tuna, spicy salmon, cooked shrimp, or cooked chicken.

The menu also features signature salads with your choice of chicken, salmon, or shrimp.

Hours are Monday thru Saturday from 11 am until 8 pm. You can place an order on the Toast app to pay with a debit or credit card or call (856) 520-8114 if paying by cash.

Unfortunately, delivery is not available at this time. Orders must be picked up at the restaurant. They will happily bring it to your car on Kings Highway or in the parking lot in the back.

The goal is to find a permanent strorefront in downtown Haddonfield. They’ve got a strong lead and hope to be securing it very soon. An annoucement will be made as soon as it is a done deal.

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Doing Good: Denim BYOB

I’m not sure if this will be a series of posts, but I wanted to call out some local restaurants who’ve stepped up to do more than just provide pickup and delivery during these turbulent times. They’re providing more than food, too.

When non-essential businesses were required to close to the public, many dine-in restaurants quickly saw their business plummet, some by more than 80%. Many decided to close altogether and simply ride it out temporarily. Denim BYOB in Haddonfield did just that.

But after a few weeks, Chef and owner David Murray started to become restless. Accustomed to working up to 90+ hour weeks at his Kings Highway restaurant, sitting around doing nothing isn’t his style. So, he decided to re-open with a revamped daily menu covering both brunch/lunch and dinner options at affordable price points.

“We’re not paying our bills doing this, but we’re trying to offer people inexpensive food,” said Murray.

The menu varies and is posted daily on their Facebook page and includes a la carte and family meal packages. Contact-free pickup is available between 12-8PM and delivery can be arranged within 5 miles of the restaurant.

Not only that, but Murray is also offering groceries and some essential quarantine items such as sanitizers, toilet paper, paper towels, and vinyl gloves in what he’s calling the Denim Marketplace all at very reasonable prices.

“I’m focusing more on the marketplace orders because this is what people need most. I started doing it because people were asking me for these things that I have easy access to. Plus it’s keeping people indoors and that’s important right now,” explained Murray.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, as the say.

He’s more than ready to open when the time comes and the restaurant will take extra precautions to ensure people are confident about dining out again.

Are you aware of restaurants who are going above and beyond for customers? Let me know and I’d love to feature them!

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Denim BYOB Now Open in Haddonfield

Denim BYOB (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)

Everything was actually going really great for Chef/Owner David Murray at Denim American Bistro’s Cherry Hill location on Kresson Road. Business was brisk thanks to positive reviews and word of mouth from loyal customers online and off. So, why did he move his successful business from a cozy, converted farmhouse to the historic downtown of Haddonfield?

Chef David Murray of Denim BYOB in Haddonfield (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)

As he tells it, it was simply time to move on and he saw Haddonfield as a place to keep growing. The space at 116 Kings Highway sat vacant for almost 10 months after the closure of Braise 116. When he checked it out as a possible new location for Denim, he said it felt right. Plus, the opportunity for more walk-in business was desirable. Not to mention, Haddonfield is quickly become known as a BYOB restaurant mecca in South Jersey. Right place, right time.

Denim BYOB in The Shops at 116 (Photo: David Murray)

Denim BYOB opened earlier this month in The Shops at 116 and doesn’t seem to be missing a beat. The menu is pretty much the same with a few additions. Creative, comforting, and seasonally-focused dishes, including many hugely popular ones like Brussels Sprouts and Korean BBQ Glazed Short Ribs, take center stage. Denim can be described as Modern-American cuisine that meets classic technique and rustic charm.

Lower Dining Room at Denim BYOB (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)

The only major change, besides location, is that they are now open 7 days of the week, offering all-day brunch and dinner. Catering for off-premise events and bookings for private parties remain. The 2-floor interior is warm and cozy with denim-inspired artwork adorning the walls.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Goat Cheese Croquettes (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Bacon-Wrapped Chorizo-Stuffed Dates (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Lobster Bisque (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Pumpkin Gnocchi (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Seared Scallops (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Richman’s Ice Cream (Photo: Marilyn Johnson)

Upon a recent visit, it’s obvious the food alone can keep them in business. Haddonfield should feel very lucky to have such great, diverse dining options. SJFS wishes them much luck!

FYI – they will be offering a special menu on Thanksgiving by reservation only. Click here for the Thanksgiving menu.

Call (856) 520-8114 with any questions or reserve through Open Table.

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