Leo’s BBQ: smoky meats, friendly service, and cake
Leo’s BBQ has two locations. The downtown location at 7 Harrison Avenue (map - 405.236.5367) and the original location at 3631 N. Kelley Avenue (map - 405.424.5367). They are open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday (downtown is not open for dinner Monday through Wednesday). The original location is also open on Sunday from noon to 6pm.
My dad always says that barbeque places are best when they’re located in buildings that are a little rough around the edges. They shouldn’t be too polished, too pristine or, well … too new.
So, he would definitely like the atmosphere at Leo’s, where both locations exhibit the same interior style. The walls contain painted brick, the floors are plain concrete, and everything seems coated in a thick layer of hickory-smoked history.
I tried the downtown location first, which is actually the newer location. Going in, I wasn’t aware of all the history surrounding this place, but I quickly discovered their website (which currently appears to be down), their second location and a video clip from when they were featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives a few years ago. To get the full experience, I tried both locations before writing this review.
The first thing that struck me about Leo’s was the friendliness of everyone who worked there. On my first visit to the downtown location, I was by myself, and I was immediately welcomed by at least three different people who showed me where to sit and answered all of my questions. Iced tea was on my table almost immediately and the refills flowed constantly throughout my visit. I really enjoyed the people at Leo’s.
I also enjoyed the food. I tried the Light Leo’s Special ($11.99 – see a picture) which lets you sample all of their standard meats including their ribs, coarsely-chopped brisket, hot links and thick-cut smoked bologna along with two sides. A full version ($13.99) and a jumbo version ($17.99) are also available to give you even more meat which I suppose you could split with someone if you wanted. I’m a pretty hungry fellow and the light version was plenty for me. They also have smaller plates like sandwiches ($5.75 – $5.95), light dinners ($6.95 – $7.95) and full dinners ($8.95 – $9.95) which let you choose a single meat and one or two sides.
Now, when it comes to barbequed meats, I’m pretty happy if they are tender, moist, and have a pervasive, smoky flavor. I’m even happier if they have some tasty bits of crust on them. So, with that in mind, I thought Leo’s meats were very good. They had such a dense, hickory flavor that they stood well on their own, without any sauce. They were tender, moist and the ribs and brisket pieces even had some bits of crust (though I could have stood more, but that’s just me). I also really enjoyed the fact that they served thick-cut smoked bologna, which isn’t all that common. It was very good as well.
Now, the sauces at Leo’s left me a bit puzzled. They are unlike any sauces I’ve had. The mild sauce is both vinegary and sweet and is pretty thin and runny. The hot sauce, on the other hand, didn’t taste like much other than a whole lotta hot, and it was very thick. I really didn’t care for either of the sauces very much. I was glad that the meats stood so well on their own. That said, the sauces are very unique and worth a try because I think personal preference plays a big part with any BBQ sauce.
Leo’s sides are pretty basic including potato salad, macaroni salad, baked beans, and baked potatoes. The potato salad was standard. The baked beans had a very interesting flavor that I really liked. On the whole, I thought the sides were fine but nothing amazing.
Finally, every meal at Leo’s is topped off with a slice of their own strawberry-banana cake (see a picture). Evidently, it is quite famous, though this was the first time I’d had it. It’s pretty simple. Just a piece of homemade, southern goodness, covered with a light, smooth glaze and topped with some fresh strawberry slices. It’s like something straight out of an old church potluck. The piece I had at the downtown location was the best one. It was very moist, while the one I had at the original location was a little drier. This cake is nothing fancy, but it’s a nice, tasty tradition and a great way to top off a barbeque meal.
So, despite my personal feelings about the sauce, I think there are a lot of great reasons to try Leo’s and even make it a regular stop. It’s a very unique, local place with great history, great meats, and very friendly people. The slice of cake at the end is a nice touch and the atmosphere is rich with character. Just remember, all that hickory smoke can have a lasting impact on your clothes. I ended up smelling like Leo’s the rest of my day but, to be honest, I really didn’t mind that much.
You can view more photos from Leo’s Barbeque on our Facebook photo album.