Get in line for chaos, coolness & excellent pizza
By Lynn Dirk, GLOB Correspondent
Editor's Note: Lynn Dirk, an editorial and communications assistant at the Brain Rehabilitation Research Center of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, is a devout enthusiast of all food things healthy.
Leonardo's By the Slice at the corner of University and 13th St is chaotic, cool, and has scrumptious food – plus it's historical. It's part of the Leonardo's epic saga that I have detailed in part at other places here in the GLOB, and because it is as much a part of Gainesville history as Tom Petty, it is fitting that it sits at what some might consider the heart of Gainesville.
So when you walk into this by-the-slice heaven, if it's lunchtime, you will generally walk into a large crowd gathered in front of the counter where you order and can visually identify which pizza slice you want. The crowd of customers is a melting pot of cultures and generations. You quickly learn to just go with the flow. If you are alone, you might enjoy either eavesdropping on neighboring conversations or just plain old people watching until you get to the counter.
Originally Leonardo's served only slices of Chicago thick crust pizza with the standard toppings: sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms. Now, there is also whole pie and thin crust options. The thin crust slices have more sophisticated toppings like spinach, artichokes, and tempeh, but for the pies, you can get any of their many toppings on either the thick or thin crus.
When you get to the counter to order, the pizza is laid out on shelves behind the counter. You make your choice and order a slice or two. Slices are slid into a big black cast iron oven to be crisped and/or heated up. This is a extra step you probably won't see at any other restaurant that serves pizza by the slice. After a couple of minutes, by which time you have probably paid for your meal and wandered off to get your drink and find a table, the slice is slid onto a parchment paper-lined small cafeteria-type tray that serves as your plate. You can get actual silverware over by the drink fountain.
The menu, which is posted above the ordering counter, also includes salads, which are some of the best in town. Plus the salads come with 3 of the famous Leonardo's garlic rolls. Last but not least, Leonarod's By the Slice also serves up calzones and pasta dishes. I have not had one of their pasta dishes yet.
But back to the pizza, it's no secret I have been a fan of Leonardo's for many years. After comparing a Blue Highway thick crust pizza to a Leonardo's (always Chicago-style thick crust), I decided I liked Leonardo's better because: They have great tomato sauce and their sausage is crumbled. BUT Blue Highway's thick crust is a nice yeasty crust. Both good for different reasons.
This little restaurant is cool. It has excellent contemporary décor – both art on the walls and style all around, including the brushed steel counter. There are comfortable, solid tables and chairs as well as booths to enjoy your lunch. There is outdoor seating in front and in back.
Recently they installed beer taps that serve up local Swamp Head draft beer.
And, as mentioned above, Leonardo's is an integral part of Gaineville's history. The birth of Leonardo's Pizza in 1983 was greeted with a cry of controversy over the DaVinci man signboard jutting out over the sidewalk. The near nudity – there IS a fig leaf properly placed - drove some in Gainesville crazy. The story about the controversy can be studied on the scene: In the back of the restaurant are 2 large framed collages of legal documents, newspaper stories, and letters to the editor, all testifying to the trials and tribulations of using that bodacious (ha ha) icon.
Leonardo's By the Slice has personality. It's a perfect lunch spot for its location. On top of that, it serves up fast food that is good food . . . well, as good as pizza can be for you. And if pizza is not healthy enough for you, they ALSO have great salads.
The Pluses and Minuses of Leonardo's by the slice:
Leonardo's by the slice:(+) indicators: Great food in interesting and lively surroundings.
Leonardo's by the slice:(-) indicators: if you are driving, make sure you go early or late or you probably won't get a place to park.
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