Nestled away on Williamsburg’s South 4th Street between the bustling Bedford Ave and Driggs Ave, Pokito has a vibe that has made it a favorite hidden gem among locals. The Latin-Asian fusion bar and restaurant just celebrated one year of being open, and it’s been quite the year for co-owner Alex Kleinberg and his team.
“The concept is about the cultures we grew up in, being honest to what we grew up eating and where we grew up, and what our families ate,” Kleinberg told Brooklyn Magazine.
We know what you’re thinking. Another fusion spot? But Pokito — run by Pratt alumni Kleinberg and his half-Japanese painter co-owner Jisho Roche Adachi — doesn’t fit the clichéd “fusion” mold. Pokito’s team of artist founders consider food another form of art.
The Brooklyn-born Kleinberg was raised in the Dominican Republic by parents in the restaurant business (his family runs the Clinton St. Baking Company, among other spots around the city), which greatly influenced the way he thinks about and serves food. He sums up Pokito’s menu as “a mashup that’s taking my Dominican culture and growing up on the beach and also being born in Brooklyn to a Jewish dad and Dominican mom,” by the self-proclaimed “Brooklyn foodie.”
The 29-year-old Kleinberg—who previously opened local favorite Summers Juice & Coffee next door—says the menu ended up bringing together the owners’ culinarily-educated French background with American breakfast, which incorporates “high end aesthetic and quality ingredients to classic, simple American foods like pancakes and French toast. Things that are traditionally made cheaply, we’ve brought this really refined quality to.”
Kleinberg’s Dominican heritage comes through in Pokito’s dishes that include sweet plantains, casabe, and crispy rice (which Dominicans call Concon). And his co-owner’s Asian heritage is incorporated via that “Northern California hippie, organic vibe, mixed with living in Japan,” he explains. And this is how Pokito fans have come to love Katso Sando with a side of fried plantains.
“We’re always looking for ways to give these classic menu items a twist in a really cool way that’s tasty,” Kleinberg says. “It’s all about bringing together all these ingredients into a refined setting, and into this neighborhood, which is very food-forward.”
Indeed, Williamsburg’s fierce food scene demands nothing but the best from new places on the block. “You have to have competition and meet certain standards or else you won’t stand out,” Kleinberg says.
With a manual dumbwaiter and a hand-crank shave ice machine displayed at the front of the dining room, Pokito is a standout in a sea of Williamsburg foodie clones.
“We’re tired of all the reclaimed woods, dark lit rooms and Edison bulbs,” Kleinberg jokes. “It’s very cliché, so we’re sorta ‘anti’ that.”
Pokito’s intimate setting centers around the marble cocktail bar and its clean lines, which Kleinberg describes as “this sort of white, reflective style mixed with that beach-y, Latin, Miami vibe. Sort of like Chinatown in the ‘80s.”
The team takes pride in installing all the fixtures and decor themselves, which gives the place a tropical-cocktail-bar-meets-Japanese-garden aesthetic—all without a hint of lumber or exposed brick anywhere.
One glance at Pokito’s menu, and it’s hard to miss the presence of bowls on the menu. When I asked Kleinberg if the trendy bowl craze affected the decision to serve in them, he said it’s once again about incorporating his Dominican culture into the mix.
“I grew up eating lunch at 1 p.m. everyday consisting of a grain, some sort of legume or protein and a salad. And in essence, what my nanny or mom made was a bowl, mixed in a sauce that you eat all together,” he explains. “It’s all about that mix of flavors, and bringing that idea into a bowl aesthetic.”
And that’s how Pokito’s bestseller, the Coco Bowl, came to be. Sweet plantain, crispy coconut rice, a little Asian slaw and garlic shrimp with a little sauce. “It incorporates everything I grew up eating but with sustainably farmed, organic ingredients like organic coconut milk and beautiful purple slaw,” he says. “Plus, you’re able to slurp everything up on the bottom!”
And it’s not all just about the food (though, it’s easy to think so with all the mouth-watering options!). Pokito strives to serve your island-inspired meals with delicious, made-from-scratch cocktails. Take for example, our favorite: “The Rick Ross,” inspired by the Miami rapper’s love for pears, created by Pokito’s own bartender, Francesca. Or the fruity gin and muddled kiwi concoction: “The Bad Seed.”
Fancy a summertime dessert? Grab a sweet shave ice out front to beat the heat. “We’re really inspired by Hawaiian surf culture, being surfers and all. So we’re bringing our take on shave ice with fresh ingredients on top of snow-shaved ice.” Condensed and coconut milk, mixed with tropical fruit and candies on top. Oh, and if you’re looking for a spike of booze, top your shave ice with rum for an extra $5 inside the bar.
You truly can have it all at Pokito.
Kleinberg says that his art school background contributed to his goal of always coming up with a “concept and an identity” on paper and making it happen. “This is the beginning of hopefully an empire,” he says of his venture. “This place is what I consider the Pokito showroom, and with time maybe we’ll do a Pokito sandwich shop or ice cream parlor. I mean, why not? People love it.”
At the end of the day, authenticity is the foundation of the Pokito family mission.
“One thing we strive for is being an honest fusion place,” Kleinberg says. “For the last 20 years or so, you hear ‘fusion’ and think: ‘someone who’s forcing a mixup of flavors,’ but this feels authentically sincere. This is Brooklyn.”
Photos by Jane Bruce