No frills needed Leon's Caribbean in Allentown | Restaurant Reviews | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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No frills needed Leon's Caribbean in Allentown 

The jerk chicken might change your entire understanding of what the dish could, and should, be

click to enlarge Jerk chicken and plantains - CP PHOTO: JARED WICKERHAM
  • CP photo: Jared Wickerham
  • Jerk chicken and plantains

If it was a beauty pageant, Leon’s Caribbean would lose. The restaurant has no frills. On Warrington Avenue in Allentown, Leon’s sticks out with a yellow brick wall. A slightly beaten and half-lit sign sits over the door, a swinging sign extends over the sidewalk that is adorned with two palm trees. For ambiance. 

Walking in, I knew the food was going to be good. There’s a sense you get with true hole-in-the-wall restaurants — the chef knows the food is good, no beautification needed. 

The dining room consists of two tables, made with plastic reminiscent of childhood pizzerias. To the left is a bar with a few seats facing a TV. Decoration is sparse, save for a Bob Marley flag by the counter. The rest of the space's white walls are adorned with old photos of the city. 

Leon’s menu is simple, based on traditional Jamaican cooking. I went with two familiar classics: curry goat, and jerk chicken. I couldn’t resist the option for plantains, so I threw an order of those in too.

If you’re looking for luxury, Leon’s is not for you. The dishes were served in Styrofoam takeout boxes with plastic silverware. 

Each entree was paired with rice, beans, and boiled cabbage. It was an impressive sight: rice piled so high I couldn’t move the container without losing a few grains. On top of the food mountain sat a piece of pound cake-like bread.

Leon’s goat falls off the bone, with meat flaking apart when stuck with a fork. The curry was mild and slightly salty. 

I’ve had bad jerk chicken: no flavor, overdone, dry meat. One taste of Leon’s changed my entire understanding of what jerk chicken could, and should, be.

The first bite smacks with cloves and nutmeg. My taste buds were overwhelmed with the deep flavors, a touch of heat following the swift aromatic kick (well, more than a touch — I did start to sweat a little). The chicken absorbed the jerk seasoning, keeping the flavors woven within the perfectly moist meat. I’m a dipper, and Leon’s cakey bread was the perfect carb to absorb excess sauce. The bread carried some cinnamon and a light sweetness that paired perfectly with the chicken. 

The chicken was a dish of my dreams. But it’s not for the squeamish. Leon’s sticks to tradition and keeps bones in the meat. Food tastes better when you have to work for it, right?

Plantains were an impulsive add-on and proof its best to always go with your gut. These were freshly fried, the syrupy caramelization of the fruit a perfect ending.

A warning: Leon’s will ruin your portion control (for all the right reasons). The addictive, savory sauces kept my fork moving, non-stop from the plates to my mouth. 

Follow staff writer Maggie Weaver on Twitter @magweav

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Leon's Caribbean
823 E. Warrington Ave., Allentown. leonscaribbean.com

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