Art Of The Meal: King's Of Leon's
Leon's Full Service
Address: 131 East Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur
Reservations: Not accepted.
Parking: You’re on your own – on the street or in public lots.
Lunch Tuesday-Sunday, dinner nightly.
Dress code: Blue jeans and age-appropriate T-shirt.
Ah, Decatur – once the “nice girl” little sister to prom queen Atlanta, now the sophisticated graduate student appalled at her sibling’s suburban sprawl. (“You’ve just really let yourself go,” she tut-tuts.)
If Decatur is, as some say, Georgia’s Berkeley, we’re probably getting less of that California satellite city’s equivalent in, say, torch-bearing protestors. But we might be getting nearly as much great food per square foot, even counting legendary West Coast “locavore” chef Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse.
Decatur’s pedestrian-friendly downtown, newly shaded by towering condos, is packed with great food spots large and small, most sharing an enlightened view of local, organic and seasonal ingredients. From granddaddy Watershed to exciting newcomer Cakes & Ale, from the Wednesday morning farmers’ market to tiny but great Sawicki’s, Decaturites have plenty to crow about.
Former UGA buddies Dave Blanchard, Mike Gallagher and Tom Moore have watched Decatur’s food evolution since opening their Brick Store Pub in 1997. Their shoestring budget did not dent their passion for making good food and creating one of the best beer lists in the country, and patrons responded with gusto. Last spring, the trio opened Leon’s Full Service, a larger, brighter and even more ambitious undertaking, around the corner from their pub.
Despite the two restaurants’ similarities (good food and snacks, a “recycled” building and casual, hip environment), the owners aren’t competing with themselves. Leon’s has a more open vibe – figuratively and literally. The former gas station’s bay doors roll up in warm weather, and the menu departs from the pub’s Bruns-wick stew and fish and chips to offer mussels in Belgian ale and lemongrass broth, a coastal shrimp gyro and mountain trout with endive and radicchio.
Still, what’s most fun about Leon’s is, well, the fun. The exuberant menu (Benton’s bacon … in a glass?) is never dampened by an overly serious attitude, from the servers or anyone else. Like most beer drinkers, these guys love meat – you’ll find a grass-fed beef burger from White Oak Pastures, flat-iron steak, brisket, pork chops and even chicken liver croquettes. But vegetarians will also welcome the creative salads (arugula with candied lemon peanuts; mesclun with goat cheese and pumpkin seeds) and mains (grilled vegetables with sun-dried tomato pesto; seared “veggieloaf” with roasted cauliflower-shiitake-sun-dried tomato salad.)
For the most part, Leon’s achieves its owners’ high-set goals – that burger is a thing of beauty, bread-and-butter pickles included. If, occasionally, there is a misstep – oddly, the “all-natural” turkey breast sandwich tasted much like a run-of-the-mill supermarket deli creation, its advertised “greens” a single slender piece of lettuce – it’s more than made up for in details like the pub frites, worth a visit on their own. These deliciously crisped beauties come with a choice of sauces, including pepper-spiked brown gravy and the must-have smoked tomato mayonnaise. The coastal shrimp gyro is a wonderfully messy gobble of Georgia pink shrimp, greens, tomato and cucumber yogurt in a soft bread envelope.
The kitchen soars with more involved preparations, like the sweet, seared wild-caught scallops with oyster mushrooms and mustard greens. The servers are cheery and knowledgeable, the cocktails spot-on, the beer and wine list extensive and eccentric.
All in all, a worthwhile place to fill ‘er up.