Leslie Jones has unique exterior signage that somehow didn't catch our eye last Friday night. So much so that we drove past it twice before spotting the oversize handwritten sticky label - a fun, unique touch that captures the essence of this contemporary little Italian restaurant in Leslieville .
Passing through their fully booked interior we continued to their charming backyard patio, and waited to be served. Then waited some more. And then some more.
Service was friendly but pokey, as they seem to have been blindsided by an onslaught of customers around 8 PM - though I suspect some of these folks might have originally arrived for lunch and politely stuck around to receive their meals. Those of you planning a first date might want to consider a backup plan.
Thankfully we were treated to small plates of White Bean Puree with crispy pita bread ($7 for the appetizer) while we peaked at the menu - and though it was flavourful, garlic dominated the white beans, and the pita slices were more stale than crispy.
Starters range from $7 to $11, with only their appetizer platter priced at $15, and sides of rapini, mixed greens, and roasted potato only $4 each.
The Grilled Calamari ($11) was cooked to a delicate softness and spiced lightly with chilli flakes, but the portion was smaller than expected.
As we sampled the Baked Polenta ($9) with olive and roasted red pepper tapenade, goat cheese and basil puree it quickly aroused our senses. Isn't this just boiled cornmeal? We suddenly craved a cauldron-full, and tasked ourselves with learning to cook this at home. Every day. For at least a month. Highly recommended.
Main courses range from $14-18, with a good selection of six pizzas (five vegetarian), pastas and meat dishes.
Eggplant ($17) with spinach, zucchini, basil puree and goat cheese wasn't so much disappointing to eat as it was to look at - as if accidentally set on fire, then thrown onto a plate in an attempt to put it out. Zero points for presentation here.
Gemelli ($17) with grilled chicken was a good, simple dish, but excessively oily, and the pasta was replaced with linguini due to a supply shortage.
The Smoked Chicken and Mushroom Risotto special ($18) had a full, rich flavour, though lacked slightly in texture since the risotto was a touch overcooked.
The Baked Salmon Filet special ($20) with artichoke heart salsa was light and tasty, but as the most expensive menu item the size of the fish seemed laughable compared to the accompanying fresh greens.
Finally, the Potato Gnocchi special ($16 - top photo) with rapini, leeks and pesto in a gorgonzola cream sauce was an absolute crowd pleaser. The gnocchi is not made on site, but this is a highly recommended dish that I hope finds its home on the regular menu.
Overall, Leslie Jones is recommended, but beware of slow service on potentially busy nights. Their selection of $6 desserts, $10 cocktails (including the rum-based D-Train I enjoyed) and $16 martinis would make this a fun after-work or late-night hangout.
Writing and photos by Alex Kovach