What’s new in restaurants?

Puleo’s breaks into Blount, Stir Fry bows out

Steve Puleo, left, and his son, David, stir up some sauce at Puleo’s Grille in Strawberry Plains, Knoxville.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Steve Puleo, left, and his son, David, stir up some sauce at Puleo’s Grille in Strawberry Plains, Knoxville.

For four years Steve Puleo and his wife drove past the former Up the Creek restaurant on their way to hiking in Townsend. He always said the same thing: That would be a good spot for our restaurant.

“We went to Townsend all the time to hike,” said the owner of Puleo’s Grille, “and we passed through both coming and going. Every time we passed, I would say, ‘That would be great spot for our restaurant.’ Now it’s finally available.”

So, he’s coming to Blount.

Puleo said he has been looking for four years to find the right location in Blount County. “I think it’s best spot in town,” he said of the former Up the Creek building on Hall Road.

The new restaurant should be open in early spring. “We’re under construction at the Up the Creek property and intend to open in late March or early April, depending on when construction gets done,” he said.

Puleo said he wanted to come to Maryville for a while because many of the restaurant’s customers come from Blount County. “We’ve been wanting to come to Maryville, and we kept getting emails wanting us to open here. We’re just glad people aren’t going to have to drive that far,” he said.

Puleo’s restaurant has a strong following, the owner said, and the restaurant has won several awards in Knoxville. Puleo, who grew up in East Knox County, has 37 years in the restaurant business in Knoxville. He was the first executive chef with Grady’s restaurant.

“Puleo’s Grill has been voted the best grill in Knoxville several times, and I’ve been voted best chef for the last four years,” he said. “One of the keys is we make everything from scratch.”

Puleo said his restaurant isn’t like others. “Most restaurants sell ‘bag in a box food. We do it the old fashioned way with fresh meat and produce and fresh chicken. Our theme is ‘Southern roots with Italian heritage.’”

Puleo comes by his restaurant theme honestly - his grandmother was Italian and his mother was Southern. “It’s an Italian/Southern grill fusion,” he said.

Puleo said something else that separates the Puleo’s restaurant from others is the quality of the staff leading each location. “Each restaurant is run by real chefs,” he said.

Puleo opened the first restaurant in his namesake chain on Aug. 16, 2002, in Strawberry Plains. This is the sixth Puleo’s restaurant. Most seat 180 to 200, depending on space. The new location will employee about 80 people, including table servers and managers. “We’re doing intensive training with managers right now,” he said.

Puleo said the food prep work is labor intensive when you use fresh products, but the difference in the quality of the food is worth it. “People don’t realize that’s not what is done everywhere,” he said.

Puleo has a lunch menu that is priced for value, Puleo said. “It’s a great value for the dollar,” he said.

New owner at Kathy’s Deli

Dan Lashley bought Kathy’s Deli on East Broadway Avenue in March. The baker has been in the restaurant business since he was 17. “I started working at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe. I spent over 20 years working in the bakery business,” he said. “My last bakery job was as a pastry chef at Das Kuchen Haus in Sacramento.”

Lashley came to Blount County because his family was here. He went to work at M&M Mars in Cleveland. “I retired and decided to get back in the restaurant business. I found Kathy’s Deli and decided I wanted to open up a bakery specializing in pastries, cakes and breads,” he said.

The deli and bakery, located across from Food City on East Broadway Avenue, has about 5,000 square feet of space with 3,500 square feet for dining.

Lashley is quick to mention the newest addition to the restaurant - a brick oven grill. “I had it built. It took several weeks. My wood-fire brick oven was originally built to do breads, and, right now, we’re just doing pizza,” he said. “In the spring, we’ll start baking breads in it.”

Lashley said the restaurant will start doing more bread when the Farmer’s Market begins in the spring. “In order to use the oven economically, I have to be able to sell a lot of bread. It bakes 120 to 160 loaves a day. The hearth is 4 by 6, so it is a really big oven,” he said. “Pizza is a good side thing for us when we’re not baking bread.”

Lashley said customers have liked the pastries the restaurant has been baking from scratch, and his breakfast menu also is gaining in popularity. “We opened up for breakfast and are trying to get pastries moving more. We open at 7 a.m. with Danish, éclairs, coffee, plus biscuits and gravy,” he said.

Lashley said the plan is to expand the bakery and make it bigger. “My idea was to expand. Eventually I’d like to get other people in here and teach them how to bake,” he said. “I’d like to teach young people how to bake from scratch.”

Lashley’s baking experience goes back to the mid-1970s. “I don’t use mixes or buy anything frozen. When someone buys an éclair or a Danish here, it’s all made from scratch,” he said. “All breads are made from scratch. Eventually we’ll get to doing wedding cakes from scratch.”

From soups to salad dressings, Lashley said everything they make is made from scratch. “I’ve had sales people try to sell us mixes, and we won’t buy them. We use high quality meats. We even make spaghetti and lasagna from scratch,” he said. “We’re making potato salad and pasta. The girls who do the cooking work hard. They get up early in the morning.”

Have a seat at Ciao Deli

Ciao Deli owner Todd White said the eatery in the Market at High and Washington recently started a Thursday and Friday buffet that is becoming very popular.

“People liked it so much when we started it on Friday that we expanded it to Thursdays,” White said. The Thursday buffet consists of pizza and the Friday buffet features barbecue, White said.

Another change in the deli is seating for about 26 people. The management also recently got an on-premises beer permit. “We have an on-premises beer license so you can enjoy a drink while shopping in the market,” White said.

The deli also offers a bimonthly beer tasting for local fans of imported or micro brewed beers. They are reservation only and take place each second Friday and fourth Thursday of the month at 7:15 p.m.

“We sell out of tastings a week or two in advance,” White said. “We’ve already sold out for the tasting on the 26th.”

White also started a Ciao Deli Beer Club for beer connoisseurs. “The beer club has really taken off. There are a lot of beer lovers in Maryville, and the club is an opportunity to try different beers and socialize,” he said. “It’s been extremely popular.”

The deli owner said the whole market also does a “Taste of the Market” event the third Thursday of every month and every department has free samples of their food. That starts at 7 p.m. and lasts about an hour and half. Taste of the Market is free, and they’re popular, too, he said.

The weekend is a special time for barbecue lovers at Ciao Deli. “We have barbecue everyday, but on Saturdays, we have ribs in addition to pork and chicken and bratwurst dogs from Wild Creek farms,” he said. “When the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy beer and barbecue.”

The Market hours are Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Ruby T’s remains closed

Ruby T’s restaurant, located in downtown Maryville on Church Avenue, closed more than a year ago and rumors of what will become of the restaurant space owned by Ruby Tuesdays surface every week. From Stir Fry to Wok Hay, each week brings a new possibility in the public’s mind for another restaurant there.

Currently the facility houses the fitness center used by Ruby Tuesday team members and also is available to the public, Ruby Tuesday spokesman Rick Johnson said.

“That’s on the lower level. It has workout equipment and fitness equipment and also fitness classes are held there,” he said.

Johnson said the second level where the restaurant was is on the street level and is used for training for Ruby Tuesday employees. “Currently, those are the plans,” Johnson said.

Stir Fry, which had announce it was coming to Maryville in the building downtown that formerly housed Roy’s Records, has withdrawn its option on the building, sources say.

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