Atmosphere: Pseudo Italian garden.
Price range: $4.95 to $10.25 for pasta and Italian entrees; children's menu, $2.25 to $4.25.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Credit cards: American Express, Diners, Central Charge, MasterCard and Visa.
Special facilities: Main dining room accessible to patrons in wheelchairs; booster seats for small children; children's menu for diners under 10 years of age; parking in shopping center lot.
There is no mistaking Leonie's mounted above the facade outside and set against a cutout map of Italy are big neon letters spelling out the restaurant's name.
Inside, there's no mistaking it either. The scent of garlic and tomato is pervasive. Murals of Italian gardens are on the walls, and the furniture is white wrought iron.
Our family paid Leonie's a visit at 7 o'clock on a Friday night and were surprised at how crowded it was.Fortunately, we were seated immediately in one of the two cavernous dining rooms. By the time we left at 8:30, however, people were lined up in an anteroom, waiting for tables.
It was a friendly crowd. Leonie's appeared to be the kind of place where families take grandma when she is visiting, the bowling team goes for a nice night out or couples visit to sip wine and have a candlelit dinner.
The menu was as varied as the crowd. One the more casual and inexpensive end, there were pizzas ($2.95 to $5.75) and sandwiches ($1.95 to $4.25 for subs, hamburgers and simpler sandwiches). The pasta with tomato sauce -- spachetti, rigatoni or sea shells -- started at $4.95 and with sausage and green peppers or red or white clam sauce went up to $7.95. There were Italian specialties -- lasagna, manicotti, veal parmigiana -- from $6.85 to $10.25. And there were dieter's specials (filet of flounder or boneless chicken breast, $7.95), steaks and seafood dishes.
All pasta, specialties, steak and seafood entries included the Leonie salad bar. (As an entree by itself, the salad bar costs $4.25.) What a salad bar it was! It started off with one huge bowl of iceberg lettuce and one equally large bowl of fresh spinach. In addition to the usual bean sprouts, three bean salad, grated carrots and raw mushrooms,. Leonie's had apple and raisin salad, beets, chick peas, applesauce and macaroni salad. Six types of dressing, including a diet dressing, were available. Everything was fresh, crisp and available in large quantities.
We were less enthusiastic about the rest of our meal. The Italian combination, $8.75, had a little bit of everything: spaghetti, lasagna, chicken caccicatore, veal scallopini. The portions of each item certainly were generous, but the tastes ran together. The food was nicely prepared but lacked zest.
Chicken cacciatore, $7.20, was a generous serving of half a chicken with spaghetti on the side. The cacciatore sauce was full of rough-cut onions, celery, green peppers and tomatoes. It looked as though it had been prepared from scratch but tasted bland, almost institutional.
The spaghetti served on the side also had a sauce that looked wonderful: I could see that fresh tomatoes had been chopped and cooked down to make the sauce. In fact, it was a bit too rich. The best idea, however, seemed to be ladling some of the spaghetti sauce over the cacciatore sauce.
The meatball sandwich, $2.95, came off better. It was seasoned with a few dabs of tomato sauce and melted provolone cheese. The meatballs had a hearty taste and texture. The portion was big and our daughter, who had ordered the sandwich, also had ordered the salad bar, ($2.45 extra with a sandwich,) could not finish all her food.
Our son also had the salad bar, $2.45 extra, with his small pizza with onion s, $3.75. The pizza had lots of cheese and nicely spiced tomato sauce. We found the crust a bit thin for our tastes.
There also was bland rye bread and whipped butter that tasted more diluted than fluffed up.
Due to the enormous portions of salad we'd had and the generous servings of main course entrees, we had to pass on the desserts -- rum cake and cheesecake, $1.50, and spumoni or tortoni, $1. The bill for four, including a $5 bottle of wine and tax, came to $32.34.