If you refer to this legendary eatery as Grandevous, you’re going to sound like you’re out of the loop. Everyone calls it Leo’s, and that’s the way it’s been since 1939 when Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi opened this classic Italian restaurant at 200 Grand.
The walls are charmingly cluttered with framed pictures. Leo’s love for Frank Sinatra is fabled. Most of the pictures are of Frank, and the jukebox is famous for its Sinatra selections. The restaurant is proud that William Bunch, author of “Jukebox America,” dubbed Leo’s machine “The world’s greatest Frank Sinatra Jukebox.”
The bar has also won kudos. Men’s Journal named it one of the 50 greatest bars in the United States. I didn’t sample all the booze but I can certainly vouch for the ambience. It’s spacious and light, with artistically curved blond wood and a huge mirror. We do know that they serve a mean Cosmo and a wicked cold beer.
Other pictures on the wall are of the DiTerlizzi family, including Leo and Tessie and their daughter. The restaurant is still family-run. Chef Sergio Denichilo is Leo’s grand nephew.
Waitresses Meghan and Kathy were on board that night. The minute we walked in, Kathy said, “I’ll put the bread in the oven.” Nothing is better than fresh Italian bread, warm enough to melt the butter. I had to be careful to save room for the massive feast to follow.
We started with an appetizer of roasted peppers, smoked mozzarella, and tomato. It looked like a little Leaning Tower of Pisa. The peppers were tastily marinated in balsamic vinegar, and the tomatoes were summer-fresh.
The restaurant is known for its bar pizzas, so Sergio sent out a small margherita pizza, which was a perfect appetizer. I counted 21 varieties of pizza on the menu, including one—the gluten-free offering—that I bet Leo never made.
Another house specialty is “Leo’s Famous Mussels”—Prince Edward Island mussels prepared with “your favorite sauce,” which could be marinara, garlic white wine, or Fra Diavolo.
A nice gentleman sitting at the bar was the recipient of our mussels. We knew we couldn’t eat everything, and offering them to a fellow diner seemed to fit well with the restaurant’s friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.
Leo’s features a number of daily specials not on the menu. Sergio suggested pulled pork with butternut squash or grilled salmon over green lentils. We selected the salmon. The green lentils added just enough flavor to accent the fresh, perfectly grilled fish.
Instead of the pulled pork dish, Sergio brought over a veal Saltimbocca, which means “jumps in the mouth” in Italian. It consists of veal with prosciutto and sage, marinated with oil, saltwater, or wine. The portions were very generous. If you can’t eat it all, be sure to take the rest home for some lucky member of your family.
Speaking of wine, Sergio offers a nightly wine special, ranging from $23 to $27. He says it encourages diners who may not be well-versed in wines to take a chance. “They can give it a try and learn and understand wines,” he says.
If you still have room for dessert—and you should definitely save room—selections include cannoli, Italian cheesecake, tartufo, and tiramisu, among other happy endings.
Having a party? You can eat in at Leo’s or they can fix you a tray to go.
This is a restaurant that epitomizes what Hoboken is all about—history, family, friends, and good, authentic food.—Kate Rounds
200 Grand St.