Tucked into an unassuming block of Ventnor lies a little bit of authentic European flavor. Pulia is a casual, rustic culinary trip to Southern Italy and the first state-side location for restaurateur and co-owner Gennaro Comella. “Tasting the flavors of a region means discovering its soul, its essence, its culture. Pulia aims to share the culinary stories, traditions and history of the region of Puglia, the heel of Italy,” says Comella.

From the Boot

Originally from Naples, Comella moved to the U.S. in his early 20s. He came to Atlantic City and spent the next 12 years working at his uncle’s restaurant Girasole. During this time, Comella also earned a degree in hospitality management from New York University.

“I spent a lot of time working in fine-dining restaurants. I opened this restaurant because I want people to taste true, authentic Italian food but in a casual setting,” Comella says.

With rustic pottery decorating the walls, natural wood platters and Italian conversations that carry from the open kitchen, Pulia is as genuine as it comes on this side of the Atlantic. As the first American location, Comella wanted to bring the authenticity of their European locations through the entire business, starting with their logo. “Our logo is very important. We wanted to emphasize the simplicity and traditions of real Italian food and honor two of the most important ingredients, basil and tomatoes,” says Comella says, who is gearing up to open a second U.S. location in Brooklyn soon. Pulia also has locations in London, Haarlem in The Netherlands and Brindisi, Italy.

With a genuine ambiance built into the brick of the business, Comella wanted to ensure that this authenticity was evident in the food. “We import almost all of our ingredients from Puglia,” Comella says.

To the belly

In fact, Pulia has a kitchen in Puglia, Italy, that hand makes their pastas, sauces and other ingredients to send to their restaurants around the globe. That why dishes such as Campania ($14), a homemade tagliolini with a light datterini tomato and basil sauce tastes just like the pasta dishes at the corner trattoria in Italy.

The backbone of this eatery is the open-flame pizza oven which completes the rustic milieu. With flour imported from Italy, Pulia is able to create artisan pizzas with a thin crisp center and a thicker, doughy hand-pulled crust. Regional flavors create unique pizzas such as the Romana ($16), topped with imported San Marzano tomato sauce, anchovies, capers, black olives and olive oil; or the Andrea ($15) topped with fig jam, fresh stracciatella, smoked prosciutto and fresh rosemary. To complement your pizza, add a pot of homemade meatballs ($12). And the Insalata Salentina ($10), an arugula salad with dried tomatoes, cucumber, ricotta cheese and yellow datterino tomatoes.

If you’re prefer heartier bread, try Pulia’s focaccia ($8), a thick yet soft, yeasty Italian bread flavored with extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and coarse salt.

Pulia is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but not in the way Americans typically think. “In Italy, people eat differently. There’s not really a breakfast, lunch and dinner. During the day, when you’re hungry you eat something light, like a croissant with an espresso, then you have a more filling dinner. That’s how we serve our food here,” Comella says. Certainly try the fresh-baked croissants.

In the kitchen

While the flavors of Italy’s heel come to life in Pulia’s prepared dishes, you can also purchase the ingredients to prepare at home from Pulia’s market. They also offers delivery, take-out and catering. The restaurant is available for private parties of around 35 or they can cater off-site parties of any size.

“This location is special,” Comella says. “We are a neighborhood restaurant, we cater to the locals. We’ve kept our prices affordable so that we’re able to stay open all year.”