Cafe charms and has few flaws

Charming as a Parisian sidewalk café, Leon Bakery and Café is the newest addition to the Verdugo Woodlands neighborhood. With a vast display case of artistic pastries, a tower of rustic homemade breads and a casual menu of things that go well with coffee, Leon tempts the eye and, for the most part, pleases the palate.

The food at Leon runs the gamut from “wonderful in every way” to “more style than substance.” I went three times just to make sure of my assessment. My favorite meal was breakfast, which happens after 9 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The breakfast croissant ($7.50) is very good. It comes stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese and a choice of sausage, bacon or ham, the latter of which I highly recommend for its strong, smoky flavor. The eggs Florentine ($10.50) is nicely presented and tasty as well, with poached eggs, spinach and a mild hollandaise sauce.

The stars at lunch are the paninis and the tartines. My son adored his pastrami panini ($6.50) with its lovely grill marks and flavorful meat. I liked the prosciutto tartine ($9) because I could build each bite as I wished. The large plate holds an open-faced sandwich on thin bread with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and olives on the side for stacking. I was not as pleased with the soups. They come in absurdly large bowls, which might be fine if they were incredibly scrumptious. The lentil soup was not. But it definitely doesn’t work with the French onion soup ($7.50) because the large size precludes it from being placed under the broiler as befits proper onion soup.

Finally, the five pastries we tried were a bit of a disappointment. While all were aesthetically pleasing and the texture on most was light and crispy, the flavors were barely discernible. For instance, the meringue on the lemon meringue tart ($3.50) is beautifully toasted, but heavy; and the filling does not have nearly enough lemon “zing” to it.

Leon does have a kids’ menu ($2.75 to $4) and, coming this summer, a selection of ice cream sundaes. This might be a nice spot for moms to relax and pretend they’re cosmopolitan travelers again. They have a fine selection of loose-leaf teas and are an official purveyor of Peet’s Coffee.

Nighttime is a special time to visit Leon. There is a dramatic, long glass firebox nestled among the umbrellas and tables outside beside which diners can enjoy sandwiches, salads, slices of lasagna ($12.50) or dessert. The elegant façade, however, belies the casual atmosphere within. Patrons line up at the cash register to order and take a number to their tables. This would be fine, but the lack of a clear system among the employees makes for awkward, inefficient service. The person who takes your money also makes cappuccino, boxes pastries, buses tables and sometimes disappears into the kitchen for a while. At times, staff members seem overwhelmed and slightly peevish. I wonder if table service would be a better idea.

Efficient or not, Leon Bakery and Café is doing a bang-up business and deserves kudos for bringing such an attractive eatery to the neighborhood.

Lisa Dupuy is on a quest to replicate the almond-croissant-and-espresso experience she had in Paris years ago. It has yet to happen. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.

Infobox:

What: Leon Bakery and Café

Where: 2517 Cañada Blvd., Glendale

When: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Prices: Breakfast items, $4.50 to $12; salads, sandwiches, tartines and soups $5 to $12; lasagna $12.50; pastries, $2 to $6; Catering available

Contact: (818) 243-4585, www.leonbakeryandcafe.com
 
 

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