The first Leo’s Pizza opened in 2007. Leo Bianchi of Big Brother fame and now his own show What’s Cooking Leo (Какво Ви забърка Лео) on TV 7 has opened his second location situated in the posh Maleeva Club complex. The exterior of restaurant is rather ugly against the industrial background of the sports center, but the outdoor seating overlooks a well-manicured park area and the clay tennis courts.
Since Leo’s was our only real option for a decent meal, I managed to eat there three times in a few short days, when I was well enough to finally venture outside the hospital’s walls.
Our first meal was an early dinner. Due to pregnancy cravings, I bent my principals and ordered tomatoes out of season. Being relatively close to Greece, it is not such a bend… it certainly is better than Peruvian or Chilean tomatoes in New York. I love a simple Caprese salad, but I was punished for my weakness. The tomatoes, while looked promising were cold, not the normal Bulgarian refrigerated tomato, but tooth chillingly cold. The texture was mealy and the flavor muted. My husband didn’t agree with my negative view. While the tomatoes were disappointing, the mozzarella was lovely. It had a fresh and slightly salty flavor, leading me to believe that this might have been fresh mozzarella, but I couldn’t confirm this as the waitstaff were rather oblivious.
My husband chose a simple main course of Tagelelli. The pasta was fresh and cooked well, but the water could have been saltier, not much to say about noodles with butter and cheese.
For my main, I went with gnocchi, which when fresh as these were, they are little bites of paradise. These gnocchi were quite good, but my perspective might have been skewed due to my hospital diet. My only complaint about the dish was the sauce add-ins: ham, peas and mushrooms. First of all, the sauce had a distinct pea flavor, not fresh pea flavor but of the water that is left over in the can of peas (Angel tasted it too). The flavor permeated the sauce and was a bit off putting. The other thing was the ham, which was cut into strips, not an ideal cut as it needed manipulation to stay on the fork and there was a lot of it. Now, most people don’t complain about having too much meat in their food, but I thought the ratio of pasta to meat and vegetables was off. I would have preferred less. I can understand the psychology of adding more. For a 15lv pasta dish, they want to give their customers the appearance of value by giving more of the stuff that is cheap, sandwich ham and canned peas. I was annoyed that I had to dig around all the excess to find the balance of the dish. In the end there was a lot of wasted ham.
The service was quick, a bit too quick. I was less than 1/2 way through my salad when the pasta arrived. I don’t like cold food, so I started eating my pasta leaving my salad on the side. There were only 2 other occupied tables and 3 servers, so I didn’t expect this to be the norm.
My next trip was with my friend Sally, who visited me for lunch with her cute new puppy Poppy. I thought I would go with a pizza this time. My last visit and only visit to the original Leo’s Pizza, I remember being excited to find a close equivalent to pepperoni, which is described in Bulgarian as “hot Italian salami”, while “люти”is not a term I would use to describe it, I guess for Bulgarian standards, that is hot. The pizza was good, nothing too remarkable, but it satisfied a craving and gave me a faint glimmer of New York.
I find that despite their use of ketchup and mayonnaise on their pizza and pickles, Bulgarians make good pizza. Even where my Mom lives in Pennsylvania the closest pizza place to her is owned by Bulgarians, as are about 5 other in the Pocono area. Even a Bulgarian-American friend of mine father owns a pizza place in New York City. I have never been seduced by the pizza from Italy. I guess, I will always consider pizza from New York City the best in the world and I am sure there are quite a few people that will agree with me.
My friend chose a simple salad with buffalo mozzarella. Considering I had a similar salad the day before, I didn’t feel the need to try hers, but I am glad a I had a bite. The tomatoes and mozzarella were much better in her salad… not so cold. I not am sure it was worth the almost 17 leva to have the buffalo mozzarella and arugula. To be honest, my caprese was 10 leva and it wasn’t worth it either.
The service this trip was abysmal. I arrived at the beginning of lunch and waited for my friend about 15 minutes. The servers couldn’t be more attentive, but as the bustle of lunch started things progressively went down hill. I had asked to have the last 4 slices of my pizza boxed up, but that didn’t happen. We ordered 2 lattes, first it took forever to track a waitress down to make the order and then when they finally did come. One had a nice head of foam and the other nothing. So frustrated with the slowness and incompetence, we just accepted the coffees to avoid further aggravation. Then trying to get the check… It was as if we were invisible. I needed to be back at the hospital by 2 and unless I jumped up and down naked, I don’t think they would have seen me… to make matters worse, we didn’t have changes, so we needed to wait again. Bulgarians don’t tip and if they do it is only to round up to the dollar. I try to give a minimum of 10%, which is a joke in NY, but I can’t leave nothing. As each increment of time past the 10% significantly decreased… I doubt my silent statement made any difference.
For my third and final visit, we met some friends of ours that are also expecting, but they are having twins in October. Angel told me to order something and we would share, so I got a pizza again, but this time with one of my favorite and hard to find ingredients in Bulgaria, artichokes. The pizza was ok, the flavors weren’t remarkable and the large pizza only had 4 artichokes. I didn’t bother with a photo because I got distracted, but I did manage to document a most unfortunate incident. I understand that it happens, but finding a hair in your food makes the hair on my neck stand up… it causes me to question the cleanliness of the whole meal and kitchen. Looking at the pizza maker, it might be an arm hair, but there is no way to be sure.
Finally, to mix it up a bit I ordered dessert, which I didn’t really want to by my company kept insisting, so I thought I would try the Panna Cotta with fig jam… It wasn’t really what I was expecting. The last time I had Panna Cotta was in Singapore it was Pandan Infused Panna Cotta with Gula Melaka at Wild Rockets. It was delicate, creamy and nothing short of amazing! Leo’s Panna Cotta was creamy, but dense and the fig jam was overpowering, plus it tasted like something from a jar or squeeze bottle.