EVER HAVE AN EXPERIENCE that’s just kind of teetering down the middle of the road when it suddenly drops a glorious, totally redeeming surprise into your lap?
|Not Leo's pie, but I wanted to|
show you something.
This was my experience at Leo’s Diner.
It’s been there forever (or at least so it seems), a Route 50 institution that boasts of its special apple pie.
So my wife and I stopped in for a late dinner the other night. It’s not a nightspot; at 8:30 they already were winding down, topping off the salt shakers and such. But we got a pleasant greeting and chose a booth by the front window.
Not much to look at inside. A large mural on one wall depicts a few thoroughbreds, and the horse motif informs some of the other wall decorations. The place is a riot of panelling, several varieties on walls and ceiling. An island of fake flowers divides the dining room; fake flowers on the tables as well.
String orchestra on the muzak.
We studied the menus. A modest two pages, with an insert of mid-week specials. Heavy on the Italian items, this or that parmigiana, spaghetti, ziti, antipasto. Fish of course, lots of fried stuff; burgers.
More of a variety on the specials sheet where you find different preparations of chicken, beef or pork, all very modestly priced for a complete (“includes salad and soup of the day”) dinner.
So we chose from those specials, and started off well with a minestrone that brimmed over with pasta and vegetables. Chunks of celery, carrots, onions floating in a hearty tomato base. Not as spicy as I prefer, but I wouldn’t wish my preference in spiciness on the average eater.
This was served with the salads and a basket of bread; salads were your typical greens with lots of dressing, in this case a house dressing of creamy Italian. Making up in quantity what it lacked in originality.
A side order of garlic bread was a waste of time: the slices were cooked with butter and garlic salt. The fiend who invented garlic salt did a colossal disservice to the palate.
I ordered stuffed shells parmigiana, a nice combo of manicotti in tomato sauce with cheese melted thereon, a dish of two meatballs on the side.
Susan had the broiled haddock. To my mind it’s totally useless to ask if the fish is fresh; as a waiter I was trained to lie and expect it of others. In this case the fish was fresh – a day or so before. We knew it was fresh because it still had some of the blue plastic it was wrapped in baked inside. But it was dry and a little gamey, something no amount of tartar sauce could cover.
The selection of with-dinner potatoes included something called “potatoes Leo,” and those were the hit of the entree: deep fried chunks of spuds with skins on, unusual and tasty.
Nothing in the dinner to get really knocked out about, but nothing awful, either. Off-the-cuff food suited to Leo’s off-the-arm service.
So we were finishing off our sodas, ready to leave, determined not to succumb to the siren call of dessert ... but I figured it was my duty to try the pie.
The waitress agreed, shocked that I’d never had it. “With ice cream?”
Leo’s apple pie is kept medium hot in a special unit. This is not microwave hot, nothing you’d burn your mouth on. Not enough to reduce your ice cream to cream sauce. Just enough to bring out the pie’s exceptional flakiness, and we all know nothing goes together quite so well as warm apple pie filling and vanilla ice cream.
Susan’s coconut custard pie was your average diner fare; she quickly engaged in a competition to grab some of my fast-vanishing dessert.
I still don’t believe the pie was that good. My mouth is still telling me that it was, but my stomach is demanding a second trip that I’ll have to make shortly to confirm this.
LEO’S DINER, Doubleday Avenue, Ballston Spa, 885-xxxx. Full bar, catering on weekdays. Serving 8 AM-9 PM daily except Monday; lunch specials from 11:30-2. MC, V.
– Metroland Magazine, 26 February 1987