Leonardo's remodels, tweaks menu, but still hits the spot

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Why: Leonardo's Pizzeria has been in business for more than 20 years in Clark County. The restaurant underwent a remodel last year to present an updated look. The menu has been distilled to bring diners the best and most popular items, which showcases pizza, made with homemade dough and sauces, and is complemented by salads, sandwiches, a few appetizers and 17 beers on tap.

Atmosphere: The strip-mall space occupies a large end unit with large windows that allow a lot of natural light in. The restaurant is decorated with soft earth shades of paint, multiple surfaces of wood, and a stacked-rock-surfaced wall. Above the stained concrete floor, can lights and pendant lights add more focused illumination to dine by. Seating arrangements include large booths as well as tables that accommodate a few or many diners. Large-screen TVs provide entertainment, and a coloring activity is offered to busy the kids. Overall, the space is casual and somewhat sparsely furnished, given its size, and it has a cafeteria feel about it.

What I tried: I decided on the meatball sub sandwich, and I sampled a Leonardo's supreme pizza and a Little Oven Annie pizza (a vegetarian selection).

The bread used for the sandwich was toasted and smothered in Leonardo's homemade marinara sauce. Four large meatballs sat atop the sauce, and cheese was melted over the top of the sandwich. Highlights of the sandwich were the rich tomatoey sauce and the fresh flavor of the bread, though I would have preferred untoasted bread, which would have lent soft freshness to each bite. The meatballs reminded me of a pre-made variety that have a processed flavor and a spongy, dry texture.

Of the pizzas, I preferred the supreme over the vegetarian. Topped with Italian sausage, salami, pepperoni, black olives, mushrooms, and peperoncinis, the flavor was packed with variety. But the sausage took center stage with its spicy sweet flavor and appetizing texture, pleasantly void of gristle. The crust was more soft than crispy and not up to supporting the volume of toppings, which were piled high on the pizza, enough so that utensils were needed to eat it in order to avoid spilling the toppings. The supreme is meaty, which lends itself to a fair amount of grease as part of the experience.

The Little Oven Annie pizza could be described as a fusion of Greek and Italian flavors. Topped with spinach, feta cheese, caramelized onions and a grape leaf-walnut pesto, it imparts a lot of sweet character with a touch of tangy essence mellowed by fresh greens. Basically, it's just what you probably would expect when you read the list of toppings.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Now that I have sampled the meatball sub and the sausage used on their pizzas, I would definitely try the sausage sub on a return visit. Other than the salad bar option, there are a few other salads that sound delicious, including the gorgonzola-pear salad. Among the signature pizzas, the garlic chicken pizza made with grilled chicken, garlic, artichoke hearts, red onion, feta cheese and white sauce sounded intriguing.

Other observations: I found the restaurant a little drafty on a cool, rainy-day visit.

Large groups may reserve the party room, which seats 60 and is divided from the rest of dining by a partial wall.

The service was friendly and courteous.

Prices were in line with other pizza restaurants that offer similar sizes and portions.

Cost: Pizzas come in 10-inch, 13-inch and 16-inch sizes, ranging from $11.95 to $28.95. Diners may build their own 7-inch personal pizza with two toppings for $6.50. Calzones cost $12.95. Appetizers are $3.50 to $9.50. Salads are $7.95, except for the Caesar salad without chicken, which is $6.95, and the salad bar, which is $4.50 for one visit or $6.95 for all-you-can-eat. Hot sandwiches cost $6.50. Desserts are $1.50 and $5.25. Lunch specials are available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and costs $3 for a slice of pizza, plus $6.50 to add a trip to the salad bar, or all-you-can-eat pizza costs $6.95, plus $1.95 to add a trip to the salad bar. Kids menu items are $4.50 and $6.50.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: 16505 S.E. First St., Vancouver.

Telephone: 360-253-2394.

Web:www.leonardospizzeria.com.Facebook is another source for up-to-date information about the restaurant.

Health score: Leonardo's Pizzeria received a score of 10 on Oct. 10. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.