It’s been a year of pandemic pivots for Randi Lee and his team at Leland Eating and Drinking House, an appealing new restaurant in a residential section of Prospect Heights. In February of 2020, after almost two years of planning and negotiations, Lee signed the lease on the corner space where Dean Street Bar once served (and Tavern on Dean before that) — his first solo endeavor after many years at Del Posto and The Spotted Pig. The dream was to make Leland — named after his great-uncle, a Chinese immigrant whose restaurant Chin’s Kitchen was a beloved community hub in Portland, Oregon — into a true gathering place for the neighborhood.
COVID had other ideas, of course, and Lee and his partner Jeanette Zinno wound up doing almost all the interior renovations and construction themselves, from tiling floors to designing and building the banquettes and tables. On December 11th, Leland finally opened, only to have indoor dining shut down again two days later. So Lee scrambled again, building a pair of “Cozy Cabins” outside (which are for one group at a time), and selling bottles of natural wine from the bar, while revamping the menu with his chef Delfin Jaranilla and launching a full coffee-and-pastry program with chef Angela Reid from The Smile.
And the changes keep coming! Now that indoor dining has returned once again, we have the latest version of Leland, with people eating indoors, outside in the single-party cabins (make a reservation for one of these cuties), or open to the elements at one of the first-come-first-served tables on the sidewalk. The latter is where I enjoyed a lovely lunch last weekend of soups, sandwiches, and baked goods, all more than compensating for the cold conditions.
The Leland menu right now features what I’d call healthy comfort food, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options to be had. The Focaccia Vegetable Sandwich, for example, is excellent, a big stack of bitter greens balanced with strips of sweet red pepper, juicy cucumbers, a slathering of earthy baba ganoush, and some fiery harrisa paste, all stuffed in between slabs of Reid’s very good bread.
Another winner is the vegetarian Ribollita Soup, a hearty concoction thick with bread crumbs, wilted kale, and tomatoes, which can be served vegan if you skip the sprinkling of parmesan. The bowl of Brussels Sprouts is cooked perfectly, with the outer leaves charred to a crisp, a combination of mint, chilis, shattered peanuts, and fish sauce (which can be omitted, to veganize) adding remarkable depth to the dish.
There are meat-based items to be had at Leland as well, including Jaranilla’s Jook, a terrific soupy porridge laden with chicken bits, ginger, egg, and a zippy drizzle of XO sauce on top. When I come here for dinner I’ll try his Roasted Chicken with salsa verde, and the Braised Pork Shoulder served over polenta. And if you’re eating inside the menu opens up a bit more, with dishes like Smoked Hake Fritters, Charred Lemon Skillet Mussels, and Pork and Beans available.
The star of chef Reid’s slate of pastries is definitely the Sourdough Cinnamon Bun — a soft, sweet, gooey treat that also happens to be vegan. Both cookies are quite good as well (both the cakey Almond, and the chocolaty Kitchen Sink), as is the sticky Zucchini Bread. My only regret on the day is that I didn’t order a slice of her Creme Brulee Pie.
Hot boozy drinks like Cafe en Fuego and Mulled Wine are available, as well as all sorts of cocktails, beers, and wine.
Lee has lots of other plans for Leland, including a vinyl hour at which he spins LPs and serves drinks and snacks, all of which are designed to create that all-important “third place” for the neighborhood, like we used to have in pre-pandemic times. And, vaccines-willing, it feels like he and the crew can pull it off.
Leland is located at 755 Dean Street, and the corner of Underhill Avenue, and is currently open on Wednesday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. (646-470-7008; lelandbrooklyn.com)