Often ingredients this simple are boring by the fourth bite but not at Leon's. The large menu and energy of Leon's makes one visit fall short of doing justice to this upscale sports bar/ neighborhood/ family/ singles/ down-at-the-corner hang out/ cool place to go.
The owner, a young man by the name of J.L. Lewis, (L for Leon?) has done a remarkable job of keeping this happening place thriving since its opening in October 2008; something where a lot of other folks have not been quite as successful.
For one thing, Lewis has given the Brookside neighborhood what it wants, instead of trying to offer a pretentious concept the locals don't want. Three or four places have tried and met with less success.
Just as important to "Brooksiders" as concept is price (as it is anywhere I suppose), and I suspect one of the downfalls of the predecessors was exactly that. Someone had an $18 or $19 burger, as I recall.
Lewis has managed to skirt that issue with a nicely varied menu, in terms not only of selection but price as well. Most items on the menu, with the exception of the few entrée offerings in the high teens (four to be exact), come in at under $10 or just a few cents over.
I first visited Leon's with my daughter, a hip 27-year-old who immediately pronounced the place "coolio!"
We ordered from the appetizer section first, while we looked over the rest of the sizeable menu. Bob Marley Dip is a bowl of seven ingredients, layered nicely and presented with the advice from our server, "I recommend you stir it all up into a bowl of goodness and eat it that way." Served with warm tortilla chips, we did exactly that. It was a perfect item to start the night. At $8.95, it is a very filling appetizer for two.
Other creative apps include Fried Artichoke Hearts with Remoulade Sauce ($8.95), Smoked Salmon Corn Dogs ($9.95) and an Onion Ring Tower ($7.95). About halfway through Bob's dip, our Reuben Egg Roll arrived. Yes, I said Reuben egg roll.
Corned beef, kraut, cheese and diced potatoes wrapped up egg roll style, deep fried and served with a spicy mustard sauce. Ordinarily, I am not confounded conceptually by food fusions, but this one still has me scratching my head a bit. Although we ate most of it, I'm still not sure if I liked it or was just hungry.
A cup of house-made Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo was good but not great. Rather than a broth based soup, this was essentially a tomato soup studded with gumbo ingredients, which is not what I expected and not what traditional gumbo should be.
On another visit, I ordered the slider plate (think mini burgers).
About five or six years ago, sliders became popular all over again, taking a cue from the original White Castle minis, which have been around since 1921. Now, they are popular everywhere, on menus from simple bar food to Kobe beef "three biters" at $30+ each.
Leon's has a nice variety, and they will allow you to mix and match either a two-burger plate ($8.95) or the three-piece model ($10.95). Both are served with house cut fries. I built a three-slider plate with the Bleu Cheese and Canadian Bacon; the Little Italy, comprised of a patty, slice of tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil and a tasty balsamic drizzle; and the BBQ Brisket slider. All were excellent, but the brisket edged out the other two as both mine and my daughter's favorite. She ordered one of the Artisan pizzas, as we both did on our next trip back.
I have to say that we are both great pizza fans, and this is one of the best either of us has ever had. And I will qualify that remark by saying that if your idea of a great pizza is one from a national chain, don't bother going to Leon's for pizza. First of all, you don't get to pick between thick, thin, crispy, cracker, wheat, white, muffin, bagel or cheese/ pepperoni/ garlic/ onion/ bean and caviar-filled crust. You get an artisan crust. One thickness only, and it's made from a moist dough that creates a thin crust that snaps when you bite into it, and then yields a soft, bready inside. Nor will you run into a half inch layer of canned tomato sauce. This is an authentic, old world artisan pie that's oval-shaped and complemented with a perfect combination of flavors and ingredients.
The Artichoke and Goat's Cheese is great, the Classic Margarita with fresh buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and fresh tomato slices is to die for, and the Mediterranean, a combination of fresh tomatoes, artichoke hearts, black olives, basil, feta cheese and finished with sun dried tomatoes is really tough to beat. They have really nailed it with their pizza menu. All 10 options are $9.95, or you can build your own from a list of stuff a mile long and each additional topping is a mere 75 cents.
Leon's has an impressive selection of hot grilled sandwiches as well. You can pick items from their "Local Heroes" section such as The Nancy Lopez, a flour tortilla wrapped around blackened chicken, ancho sauce, black beans, diced tomatoes, green chiles and roasted garlic spread. No? OK, how about the Barry Sanders, a Grilled Skirt steak, fresh mozzarella, fire roasted peppers and grilled onions on a toasted hoagie, or the American Soldier, a traditional Po' Boy with fried grouper, lettuce, tomato and chipotle adobo sauce.
It's a fun menu with some great bar food twists. Everything on that section runs from $9.95 to $10.95, except the Johnny Bench, which comes in at $15.95 for a blackened rib eye served on a croissant with sweet peppered bacon, smoked gouda, ancho sauce and fire roasted peppers and onions.
A brick, deco building houses Leon's on the Restless Ribbon. Inside are lots of bistro height tables for two and four, a huge bar area, a stone oven pizza where you can watch the artisan at work, and a dining room with lots of booths.
A porch area is preferred seating at this time of year, but the wait is worth it. A high arched glass ceiling in the main bar area is interesting to look at, and the whole place is just a comfortable and entertaining place to be. The service is always quick and attentive, with a number of bubbly and easy-going servers who know how to work it.
I have always been amazed at how some people can work in total chaos and make it look easy. These folks are the perfect example of that. If you ever need to hire multi-tasking, high pressure people, look for someone with a couple of years of high volume restaurant experience.
I counted 20 flat screen TVs adorning the walls, so you can't turn your head in any direction without seeing a ball game or sporting event of some sort. The sound is usually muted with a good mix of music playing in the background. The noise level is usually pretty high, so if you're sensitive to that you might want to try a Sunday evening.
The night my daughter and I were there, OSU was playing Georgia, and it was an absolute zoo. Very high energy, very high noise level, and tons of excited shouting. It was really fun but conversation was out of the question that evening. No problem, though. She hates it when I lecture, and she loves the excitement! You just never know, but go expecting anything.
It is really fun to stroll around in Brookside, up and down the restless ribbon, so plan a little extra time to do that. It's something everyone should take the time to do when visiting the area. It's a lively and fun place to be.
Leon's on the Restless Ribbon
3301 S. Peoria
Sunday -- Thursday 11am-10pm
Friday -- Saturday 11am-11pm
Service *** ?
Atmosphere *** ?
Prices: Reasonable prices and a good value; easy to eat to fullness for less than $10.
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