Peppers are the theme, and great Southern-style food is the cuisine at Marco's Pepper Grill in Medford.

Peppers are the theme, and great Southern-style food is the cuisine at Marco's Pepper Grill in Medford.

Houston native Marcus Flakes' fare is a "melting pot" of Cajun, Creole and Tex-Mex dishes that bring on the heat. Look for etouffee, a spicy stew of crawfish and seared chicken served with white rice; Cajun-style shrimp Alfredo with fire-roasted peppers and penne pasta; chicken-and-sausage jambalaya; Cajun-style chicken in a Creole-style sauce infused with poblano peppers; Cuban-style pizza with black beans and roasted corn; and — a soul-food tradition — fried chicken and waffles.

Flakes also specializes in fresh ingredients and spices that enhance the flavor of each dish. He studied culinary arts at the Arts Institute of California in Sacramento, Calif., where he was dubbed Chef Marco.

While Flakes' recipes are uniquely his own, the food would be familiar to Louisianans and Texans. This information made it easy to cajole a co-worker, also from Texas, to accompany me to the new restaurant for a trial run.

Chef Flakes and his managing partner, Anna Sanchez, opened the new eatery in mid-July in the two-story building on Riverside Avenue that formerly housed Sally's Kitchen. Look for it between 11th and 12th streets, tucked next door to H&R Block. There is plenty of parking in the back.

Pepper Grill's freshly scrubbed and painted interior offers a welcoming ambience, as does Sanchez's constant smile and friendly demeanor. There is counter seating in front of the kitchen, as well as booths and tables. Entrances are available in the front and the rear.

Sub sandwiches stand out on the menu. The crispy chicken po'boy is served with red-pepper aioli on a toasted hoagie. There's the Pepper Grill's Texas Pepper Cheesesteak on toasted ciabatta, and the New Orleans Muffaletta Panini entices with sliced ham, mortadella, provolone and spinach stuffed into crunchy Italian bread and drizzled with a trio of garlic, cilantro and chili oils.

Other sandwiches include ham-and-salami panini; chicken teriyaki with cucumber and sauteed red peppers on toasted Asiago ciabatta; and smoked turkey and provolone with sprouts and sliced avocado on onion-garlic bread.

Make a meal out of these sandwiches by adding a cup of soup, chips or potato wedges. The seasoned wedges are the best I've tasted.

There also are tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas at the restaurant, which also boasts a full breakfast menu of omelets, scrambles, pancakes and biscuits and gravy. Breakfast is served until 10:30 a.m.

My lunch companion chose the chicken po'boy ($8.95) and added a side of those wedges and a glass of iced tea. I eyed the shrimp Alfredo, then thought the etouffee ($12.29) the more apt choice. We started with an appetizer of Chef Marco's Southwest Egg Rolls.

Flakes' and Sanchez's dining concept is a casual one with a quick-service approach, and our lunch orders reached our table in a jiffy.

The crunchy egg rolls were filled with Mexican rice, green bell peppers, roasted corn, black beans and jack cheese and served with creamy chipotle dressing. The delicious flavors mingled together and shouted Southwest cuisine. I could have made lunch out of the egg rolls alone.

The spiciness of Marco's etouffee is just bold enough. Its flavor comes on slowly and is enhanced with each bite. My co-worker's po'boy looked so yummy that I went back to the Pepper Grill a couple of days later and ordered one for myself.

There's a lot more on the menu that intrigues me, and I'll make Marco's Pepper Grill a regular spot. I want to try the chicken and waffles. It's big in the South as comfort food, says my co-worker. There's something about its combination of sweet and salty.

When you visit the Pepper Grill, be sure to top off your meal with Marco's bread pudding. It's made with raisins and pecans and served with bourbon sauce and powdered sugar. It's the best.

I'm thinking about those egg rolls.

— Laurie Heuston