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Puleo's Grille combines Italian with Southern roots

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Chef Mark Shelton prepares a dish Nov. 14, 2012, at Puleo's Grille in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/D. Whittle)

When Whittle taste buds start lining up to tour the Murfreesboro’s “Restaurant Row,” they do a little dance.

Restaurant Row names such as (Italian Southern) Puleo’s Grille and (Greek) Demos Steak House hint at international cuisines.

“Murfreesboro definitely rivals Baton Rouge or Nashville in cuisine,” said Baton Rouge, La., semi-retired investment lawyer and retired Navy fighter pilot Garry Lewis, who frequently lands his personal jets at nearby Smyrna Airport.

This day, my wife, Pat Whittle, had a hankering for Puleo’s.

More specifically, she wanted Chef Mark Shelton’s George’s Bank Schrod, a dish that smacks of New England in freshness and mouth-watering taste.

“Everything we serve is fresh, no exceptions, including our George’s Baked Schrod, lavishly coated in Ritz crumbs, and served with stone-ground cheese grits and Napa slaw,” Chef Shelton shared as the fresh seafood flavor exploded out of his kitchen. “We take a lot of pride in tailoring our meals to our customers’ desires. Our baked schrod is a headliner menu item.”

“I like the schrod because it’s fresh with no strong fish taste, and is accented perfectly with the Ritz cracker flavor,” Pat noted while looking up from her menu. “Add that special slaw, and you’ve got a meal for the hardest-to-please pallet.”

Puleo’s Grille, founded in Knoxville in 2002, is a culinary creation that smacks of Deep South tradition, but laced with Italian flair. Murfreesboro was the third opened of six Puleo’s eateries in Middle and East Tennessee.

“This culinary creation derives from our Executive Chef Steve Puleo, who has infused his Southern roots and Italian heritage,” Murfreesboro resident Chef Mark Shelton credited. “Our unique concept offers a taste of fresh steaks and seafood, with a flair of authentic Italian cuisine and a hint of Southern cooking.”

Want coastal-style, mouth-watering Deep South cuisine?

Whittle lips quiver in anticipation when ordering Puleo’s shrimp and grits that smacks of Charleston, S.C., East Coast freshness and flavor, anchored with Southern-style grits.

“This is our headline item … The dish that makes ‘regulars’ out of our customers,” Puleo’s General Manager Brian West confirmed. “It features fresh-from-the-coast sautéed shrimp, Italian sausage, peppers and onions served over stone-ground cheese grits, smothered in Tasso gravy.”

Witnessing Shelton infuse the spices, while controlling the flames over the grill is like watching an artist at work when he brings his next order of shrimp and grits out of his kitchen for serving.

“Everything we send out, is made-from-scratch daily,” Shelton shared.

Regional Manager Eric Yeager, of Knoxville, added a robust serving of “Middle Tennessee work ethic and customer service” to the Murfreesboro Puleo’s recipe for regional dining success.

“They take great pride in their duties, which translates in customer service approval,” Yeager described.

“Our No. 1 goal at Puleo’s Grille is to ensure that our guests have an enjoyable dining experience,” Yeager sprinkled. “We can train workers in technique, but not in caring. Our employees here care and take pride in their jobs.”

The Puleo’s team also is noted for desserts.

“In November, we’re featuring our popular cheese cake, but with a pumpkin flavor,” West noted. “We’re asking customers for a ‘holiday flavor’ appropriate for December.”

“Make December’s in-house created cheese cake with ‘key lime’ flavor,” chimed Pat after consuming her baked schrod, which can be young fresh cod or haddock.

Something new for the Sunday morning crowd is Puleo’s Brunch that’s served from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., featuring unique items ranging from crab cake benedict, strawberry-stacked French toast or the increasingly popular three-egg breakfast accompanied by selections such as Applewood smoked bacon, an 8-ounce sirloin, Black Forest ham and grilled pork chops.

“Our Sunday brunch is becoming increasingly popular,” marketing director Kimberly Honeycutt verified.

“I’m also in charge of catering services that can vary from large group buffets to box lunches for small gatherings,” Honeycutt noted. “Something new are our $5 specials, ranging from half-pound burgers to our all-day Wednesdays’ spaghetti and meat sauce.”

“Plus on all our dishes, Puleo’s is proud of our gluten-free menu options, tailored to individual customer dining needs,” Honeycutt served.

For more information about Puleo’s Grille, call 867-3312, for catering 631-5832, located at 730 NW Broad St.

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Business, Cooking, Culture, Demos, Entertaining, Food, History, Mark Shelton, Murfreesboro, Puelos Grille
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