Sunday, August 9, 2009

Leon's: A Legend Reborn

Leon's was apparently a New Haven landmark when I was just a twinkle in my mother's eye. Years after closing its doors on Howard Avenue (originally opened in 1938), it has found a new home on the Long Wharf waterfront. Though it's not listed on their website, my stylist tipped me off to the fact that Leon's has an elaborate Sunday brunch buffet for only $25/person, including tax, tip and your choice of brunch cocktail. So, though the day was overcast and a little chilly, James and I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Our reservations were for 11:00, and we were nearly the first ones there. A liveried waiter was putting the finishing touches on the coffee station and the buffets were still pristine. The restaurant has an old-school, understated elegance to it that I recognized from parts of Wooster Square; the wooden tables were fittingly simple, adorned only with crisp ivory napkins and basic white plates. After the hostess put us at a table for two in front of a full-length window overlooking the water, a waitress immediately came over to take our cocktail order (I went with a Mimosa and James had a Screwdriver). It's a good thing we got an early start, because we needed serious digestion time in between trips to the food stations.

While I'm not usually a huge buffet fan if only for the reason that I don't eat enough to make it worth my while, this one was something to marvel at. Hot items served on one side of the room included a manned omelet station; carving station; baked scrod with an olive sauce; a light pasta primavera; Chicken Cacciatore; Leon's trademark Panne Cotto and a breakfast selection of mini waffles; french toast; fresh fruit toppings; whipped cream; home fries; bacon & sausage and, of course, scrambled eggs. The cold selections were even more impressive, especially an artisan cheese display, jumbo shrimp cocktail and salads featuring various combinations of fresh salmon, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pasta and vegetables.

As if that weren't enough to keep us munching for hours, there was an additional dessert and pastry display at the bar. Beyond the expected assortment of croissants, breads and jams, scones, mini-muffins and a delicious coffee cake that I suspect was made almost purely of butter, there were some more interesting fruit tarts and an array of cookies and cheesecakes that I just couldn't muster the appetite to sample. There was a surprise birthday party happening off the main dining room, and I sincerely hope that they had the good sense not to bring their own cake.

The ambiance would naturally have been aided by some sunlight, but even on a cloudy day, we were content to watch the sea birds bask and dive outside our window. Mystic, CT the New Haven waterfront is not, but there was a large ship coming into port and there is a brick area with benches and lights to have a rest in after chowing down inside. Provided that you're not expecting a bustling esplanade or Caribbean breeze, I'm sure that Leon's outdoor patio would be a pleasant and unique spot to have brunch al fresco (and we would have had weather permitted). That said, I was irked by a couple of minor things that may speak more to my own hang-ups than to the restaurant's failings: the music--top 40 of yesterday (I heard 90s Bon Jovi and Britney Spears)--didn't match the care that had gone into everything else. I could also have done without ESPN on the big screen in the bar, but James tells me that some people watch sports on Sundays. Who knew?

I wouldn't choose Leon's over the best of the smaller brunch spots in the area (Bella's in Westville or even Pond House in West Hartford), but what it does it does well. The service was prompt and attentive, the buffet was kept clean and God knows there was ample selection, and the water views are pleasant. Some of the things I sampled were really top notch, such as the Panne Cotto and a few of the salads, and the more run-of-the-mill breakfast items were still perfectly tasty. I'm glad that we went and I may well go back, but on most Sunday mornings, I'm just not quite hungry enough to make Leon's my go-to brunch choice.

1 comment:

  1. I love the honesty and integrity behind this blog post. Sounds like a very "vacation" type of hotel restaurant (like a Disney World type of place) where the food is good, but not perfect. Can't wait to see where you go next week! (And I agree about the music, I hate when there is a dissonance between the music and atmosphere).
    ox Olivia