Episode 1: Leon’s Oyster Shop
This has been a long time in the making, but my good buddy Steve and I finally decided we should collaborate on a blog post. If you didn’t already know, Steve was the person who convinced me to start Holy City Handcraft in the first place, so this collaboration was inevitable. We’ve both been active in Charleston’s blog scene: Steve wrote about and took pictures of Charleston’s architecture and I blogged about the food and drink the Holy City had to offer. We needed to find a middle-ground, and considering Charleston restaurants not only have the most unique (and historic) locations AND some of the best eating in the southeast, its come to this. We will be entitling this series
‘Holy City Handcrafted Buildings and Foods Are Cool’ ‘Design and Dine’. So here it is, Episode 1, a review of Leon’s Oyster Shop — make sure to check out Steve’s article over at Buildings Are Cool!
“Leon’s combines old Southern classics with fine-dining flourishes in a funky neighborhood chicken and oyster joint.”
Located on 698 King Street in Downtown Charleston. ‘Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop’, is the brainchild of owners Brooks Reitz and Tim Mink. Originally “Leon’s Paint & Body Shop”, the ‘Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop’ opened back in 2014.
Walking up, you’ll notice the same familiar LEON’S print and bay doors where the garage used to be. This was kept intact and creates an indoor/outdoor feel, not matter where you decide to dine. The well-lit outdoor patio is a crowd favorite and provides large umbrellas for shade during those bright Charleston days. The bay door acts as a conduit as servers and patrons are free to go in and out of the building to visit the bar or the facilities.
The decor of the restaurant is kitschy and gives off a New Orleans-like vibe. You’ll see exposed wooden rafters and plenty of rustic decor that reminds you of this building’s history as a body shop. Believe it or not, it was much darker inside the restaurant than it was outside in the patio
Did I mention how much I dig an open kitchen? I loved that there was a table available in front of the service window. These types of kitchens are becoming more and more popular. Gone are the days when patrons did not want to see the people making their food. It was a treat having the opportunity to watch these chefs in their element.
The Bar (Cocktail Menu)
The bar provided plenty of space and was the perfect spot for us to grab a couple cocktails as we waited for our table. The bartenders were friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. Guests are encouraged to eat at the bar, it even had built-in raised serving platters similar to those found at oyster bars in New Orleans (think Acme Oyster House).
The Food (Full Menu)
“You have to go to Leon’s and try the fried chicken and/or chargrilled oysters!”
-Anyone who’s ever been to Leon’s
Once we finally migrated from the bar to our table, of course we had to start with the staples. We tried all the oyster offerings on the menu, this included: The famous Char-Grilled Oysters, the Fried Oysters Rockefeller, and the Oysters Casino. We did not order any raw oysters but I will note that it is an option on the menu and is served with a mignonette at market price.
The Fried Oysters Rockefeller was just that, a fried oyster sitting on a bed of spinach, Pernod, and fines herbs — these were delicious as well, the crunchy texture of the fried oysters fared well as a ‘Rockefeller’ (traditionally just baked/broiled). The Oysters Casino were layered with piquillo peppers, Neuske’s bacon, lemon, and chives. You can’t go wrong with any of these, considering we devoured all three varieties. I will say if I had to order them in descending order (as far as which one you should order first), it would be: Chargrilled Oysters, Oysters Casino then Fried Oysters.
The Main Course(s)
We came to Leon’s for the fried chicken but couldn’t help order some other goodies from the menu. I would like to note that most the entrees (except for the sandwiches) do NOT come with sides, so you’ll have to order them à la carte. We did just that, but up first, that fried chicken everyone has been talking about:
The 2-piece fried chicken ran us $10 for white meat and $8 for dark meat. Bottom line: the chicken was delightful and kicked you in the face at the same time (in a good way), it was a great balance of texture and flavor. The exterior was only lightly breaded and fried, biting into the meat exposed the juicy thigh meat under that crispy, crunchy coating (Fun fact: I prefer dark meat). The breading was also spicier than most fried chicken joints around town which I loved, I found it somewhere a little more than a traditional southern fried chicken and not quite Nashville hot chicken. Either way, it was delicious.
As for our sides, we ordered the Roasted Cauliflower ($8), the Scalloped Potatoes ($7) and the Fried Brussel Sprouts ($7). The roasted cauliflower included a tofu cream, brown butter gremolata and topped with fresh parsley. We ended up ordering another round of these. The scalloped potatoes and Brussel sprouts were fine as well, but we stuck to one order of each… we aren’t pigs, gosh.
We also split the large Siam Salad ($15) and added shrimp (+$4). In addition to the shrimp, this MASSIVE salad included Napa cabbage, avocado, peanuts, orange, fried shallots, and fresh herbs like Thai basil and mint. This bowl could have fed four as an appetizer or one really hungry couple. I was skeptical about the price at first since $19 for a shrimp salad seemed a little overpriced, but a large Siam Salad was meant to be shared. It was a wonderful symphony of Asian flavors and textures from the crispiness of the shallots and the crunch of toasted peanuts to the sweetness from the mandarin oranges and savory flavors from the fish-sauce based dressing. I would easily recommend this salad to anyone visiting Leon’s for the first time.Most importantly, did you know they have SOFT-SERVE?? If you look closely enough, they actually advertise it right on the building!
We left Leon’s feeling very satisfied, the Chargrilled Oysters and Fried Chicken lived up to the hype. I think we made some solid choices on the menu items and had the opportunity to try the best of what they had to offer. It terms of price, it is comparable, if not less expensive than some of the restaurants around town serving fresh oysters and seafood. I like the honesty and transparency behind the menu, they tried not to add a ton of fluff to make the food seem fancier than what it is. Leon’s has a cool, young vibe with an inviting venue and from what I can tell (so far), amazing food… so what’s not to like? Did I mention they had soft-serve?
If you liked this article, don’t forget to check out Steve’s article at Buildings Are Cool for an overview of the designs behind Leon’s!
Steve Ramos writes a blog called BUILDINGS ARE COOL. As the title suggests, this dude is really into architecture. His writing chronicles the ups and downs of architecture and design with the goal of providing useful tips and lessons from his stories. He also throws in the occasional book review, shares his artwork and makes unsuccessful attempts at humor. Steve is an Associate Principal with LS3P in Charleston, South Carolina with a focus on commercial architecture in the heart of the city. He believes he has the job of his dreams and lives in a place very close to paradise.
You can also contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org