Restaurant Review: Leone’s Pizza
Are you ready for more pizza?
The first visit to Leone’s was hot on the heels of a stinging defeat at the first annual Best Bites: Pizza event. Guests at the event voted for Cincinnati-based chain Dewey’s as the best pie in town; better than any local mom n’ pop operation. Ouch.
Dewey’s puts out a nice product, no argument. But one bite into the very first piece of our Leone’s pie, and my pizza partner declared,“There. Is. No. Way. Dewey’s is better than this.”
So, there’s one vote for Leone’s. It probably gets lots of votes, actually. It opened at the end of February, in a little hole-in-the wall off of Sinclair Road. The pizza parlor is a scrappy operation, with a few chairs and tables next to a big kitchen where you can watch the proprietor and his pizza throwing skills. An earlier CU story features a video clip of his championship-level skill set; dumbfounding. In fact, at one point, we saw him doing dough acrobatics with plastic-gloved hands, while disabled by a phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. Bonus points for a simultaneous display of dexterity and meticulous hygiene. That’s not on YouTube.
About the pie. The aforementioned slice was Pepperoni. It’s the most popular flavor in the US, and hence, a good way to test any stop. It’s shiny, glistening enough that a WeightWatchers aficionado is probably going to have to find a napkin and blot. Forget about blotting though, if you have to do that, just order a salad. Enjoying the slice in its natural state requires picking up a floppy piece with its polka dots of soft pepperoni and drippy cheese and just wallowing in the briny goodness ($16.50 for a medium pie).
For New York style pizza fans, the tender crust folds naturally. It wants to fold. This is what you’ve been looking for.
Moving beyond the classic pepperoni, the pizzeria can put out a pie that’s a little fancier too. Bianco fits the bill. The mix of mozzarella, garlic and basil also features generous clots of ricotta so you can appreciate the diversity of its toppings. It’s pretty, and more sophisticated ($17).
Beyond the pizza, you can adventure all around the menu. There are hero sandwiches. They’re built on a nice house-baked bun that combines a sturdy crust with a soft and supple absorbent crumb. A Meatball Hero ($8) is an excellent way to appreciate the thick house marinara and meatballs; meaty, not fillery/rubbery, and there’s a sausage accent that gives them a little oomph.
The menu has pasta too. It’s mom and pop-ish. The view from most angles in the eatery lets diners watch the pasta cooking process. It’s not quite as fabulous as the pizza-tossing, but at one point the flames coming from the sauce shot up and engulfed the proprietor, which was cool to watch. As for the specific sensory characteristics, Baked Penne ($12) delivers plump pasta, well-coated with a thick combo of ricotta and marinara. Then it’s smothered in melted cheese. What’s not to like?
And Garlic Knots ($5) were recommended. The tender house dough is twisted into little golf-ball sized knots, baked, then they’re doused in some sort of garlic-salt-parmesan mixture. It’s not fancy or artisanal, but if you believe there’s something to be said for Ernest Matthew Mickler’s way of cooking, these are for you.
The place is popular and tiny, so there can be a wait between ordering and eating. That said, the cooking show in the kitchen is pretty engaging, so it doesn’t seem as long as… sitting in a big place in front of a television and vacantly playing with a phone. You can find Leone’s at 5413 Sinclair Road.
For more information, visit www.leonespizza.com.
Photos by Walker Evans.