Even before the kitchen opened to the public, Leon’s Full Service endeared itself to the Decatur dining scene. The new pub, operated by the same people who run The Brick Store (internal), decided to assist with the drive to raise money for employees of the 5th Earl Market.
Leon’s ran an eBay auction (link to screenshot) for the right to savor the first pint served at the restaurant. The auction drew 56 bids and ended at $2,650. The winning bid was placed by the owners of the Universal Joint, so kudos to them!!! Sometime around 5pm last night, the partners bellied up to the bar and took what was rightfully theirs! Apparently, the under bidder got in on the action, though Leon’s did not make him/her honor the bid :-). But that is neither here nor there, as the restaurant will have to produce if they want to survive in this economy.
While their ability to survive is dependent on a handful of factors, the restaurant’s charitable endeavor alone warranted a visit on opening night. Hence, a buddy and I decided to go check out this new Decatur hot spot on the corner of Church and E. Ponce. Nearly every table was filled throughout our stay; although, we did not arrive until close to 8:15. Seeing as it was opening night, there were some good things and some bad things.
In atmosphere and vibe, Leon’s is everything the Brick Store is not. While TBS is dark and cramped, Leon’s is light and spacious. I really do enjoy the atmosphere at TBS; however, I also enjoyed the vibe during my seminal experience at Leon’s.
In retrospect, Leon’s seems to combine a bit from their old brother along with the décor of that certain taco place just down the street (think: garage doors). The interior of this former filling station (hence the name Leon’s Full Service), is spacious yet inviting. The walls are painted a baby blue, the windows are large, and the wood booths are complimented by a decent number of free standing tables. Management has done a great job of finding balance between seating capacity and leg room . While the Brick Store has a somewhat divvy appeal, Leon’s is a bit more upscale.
The bar area accounts for one of three or four large rooms that comprise the entire outfit [Depending on how you define a room]. It is pretty well laid out; there are plenty of seats and a little booth like area designed to serve several small groups of people. Two columns of nameplates tasked with providing the beer list hang behind the bartenders. Though I am not much of a beer dude, I was glad to see a varied collection of brews. The “duck rabbit baltic porter” [sic] certainly caught my eye. To nobody’s surprise, Leon’s has all the standard liquors, some signature cocktails, and a wine list with about 20 items. Most everything on the wine list goes for between $25-35 a bottle. Some are higher, and some are lower. All the wines are available by the glass; and, there are some real solid choices that I remember from my days in the wine biz. All said, the beverages are reasonably priced and I suspect this will be a big draw for Leon’s.
Ah, but alas we are seated and it is time to peruse the menu. At first glance, I am intrigued. The intrigue did not carry through to execution as there are a handful of things that need to be improved regardless of any free pass I may give them for their break out of the starting blocks. As the Brick Store gets way too much love for their food, I would not be surprised to see that curtousey misappropriated on the cuisine at Leon’s.
Speaking of the menu, you will find a great selection of items (at least in number). Things that caught my eye the first time through were the pub frites (fries), the snacks, and the diversity amongst the remaining items. While the fare at the Brick Store is straight forward and simple, Leon’s seems to employee a more diverse set of ingredients and dishes. Nothing here is earth shatteringly progressive, yet there is a nice, fresh appeal to the ingredient list.
TBS will run about $5/app and $9/main; Leon’s is a notch higher on the price ladder. When you consider the fact that sides are à la Carte, even the least expensive sandwich will run you $11 with fries.
As I alluded to previously, I was underwhelmed with the meal from last night. My beef with the food at Brick Store and LFS is the use of low quality of ingredients. At Leon’s, it seems ownership took the time to “raise the bar” with the menu composition but not with the quality of product used to create the dishes. I don’t care how good of a chef you are… crap in = crap out.
The frites list is pretty cool. For $6, you get an order of fries (which I found to be tasty on their own), and a choice of roughly 12 unique dipping sauces. If that is too much, a single sauce of your choice comes with each side order. Our waiter was super cool about the fries. I ordered them as a side with my main course. I started with the horseradish mayo but since the portion was small … I asked if I could try the smoked tomato mayo. The garson happily obliged with a gratis portion. Both of the coatings were tasty and I am inclined to return so that I can check out the more adventurous concoctions (goat cheese fondue anyone???)
In addition to a handful of appetizers, Leon’s offers up several snack selections. One of the options is nothing more than six pieces of bacon in a glass. I elected to save my carotid for later in the evening. We elected to sample the lug nuts (a.k.a. almonds) for $3. The portion was too small for the price point – but I did enjoy the sweet flavor.
Though my stomach would regret it later, I wanted to sample an appetizer. Rabbit tenders with lemon & caper relish and sweet mustard it was. The dish was a disaster. The batter was light, but the rabbit was gamey, dry (aka overcooked), and not particularly flavorful. In addition, the sauces did not enhance the experience. I am not sure if this dish is salvageable.
For our main courses, I went with the beef bistro steak and Brian had the shrimp gyro. I had a bite of his gyro – the bread was waaaaay too stiff, but the cucumber yogurt was well balanced and lent itself well to the shrimp. Was the yogurt made in house? Doubtful! Not a bad dish – but at $10, I was disappointed with the quality of ingredients (anyone starting to see a pattern develop?).
My sandwich was a muddled execution of mediocrity. The steak was “okay”, but the gruyere, charred red pepper, arugula, and horseradish mayo were slopped on. It seemed like someone hired to read a list of ingredients was responsible for its creation. As for quality of ingredients … take a guess. The bun was the biggest disappointment; the bread was stale and cold.
Admittedly, I’m a harsh critic. Nothing here was run for the hills bad; but, my sampling of the sandwiches does not leave me with much hope for the pork osso bucco and other more expensive items.
Service was surprisingly good for an opening night. It looks like they have a pretty solid system in place. A main waiter is assigned to a group of tables, runners handle the food delivery, and a handful of people were there to oversee and maintain order. How much of this was the result of opening night enthusiasm remains to be seen.
All in all, I absolutely dug the vibe, and the service was more than sufficent. I feel the food left a lot to be desired and I am not sure that will change when I do return. I expect this place to be a darling of the neighborhood. Will I eat here again? Yes… Will I ever go here TO eat? Not so sure at this point.
After 2 well liquor drinks, 2 glasses of house wine, 1 app, 1 snack, 1 side and two sandwiches, our bill came to $75 including tip. That’s a little much.
POST SCRIPT: I did take a copy of the menu with me. It is not available online, so if anyone has any specific questions before you head over – shoot me an email and I’ll be glad to reply.