Pushing the boundaries of Charleston’s food scene farther up King Street than ever, Leon’s is located in a former auto garage that had been in the neighborhood for 40 years — Leon’s Paint and Auto Body.
“Leon had run the business on this corner for 40-something years,” said restaurant owner Brooks Reitz. “As we began the process of renovating the space, a guiding principle was the preservation of that history and the space, which had been important to Charleston and to the immediate neighborhood. We decided soon after to keep the name, and to leave the exterior of the building relatively untouched, to give the space an immediate sense of history and timelessness. We changed ‘Paint’ to ‘Poultry,’ changed ‘Auto Body’ to ‘Oyster,’ and we set off on our path.”
The folks at Leon’s offer a variety of oysters, raw and “Rockefeller” with their own special touches. The raw oysters come from different locales with different flavors, like super briny or mildly salty.
We went for the fried oysters “pluff mud” style. The pesto-style sauce looked — but thankfully did not taste — like the actual mud that gives coastal inlets their distinctive aroma. The large fried oysters sat on the mud concoction and were served on the half-shell.
Then there was the chicken. The skin was a golden brown cover holding in all the fantastic juices with a little kick. Here’s a tip: Let the chicken sit for a bit and cool off so you won’t burn your lips, because they cook it fresh and serve it hot, both temperature- and spice-wise.
But don’t expect to find the secret online. “That’s of course an important recipe that we keep quite close. We developed a particular brine and breading, and a process around it, that makes it quite nice,” Reitz said.
There are plenty of options for sides, including salad, oyster stuffing and fried Brussels sprouts that were fantastic.
We also tried the shrimp roll — shrimp salad with horseradish mayo, celery and potato chips on a bun — that had its own kick.
The day we visited was a lovely South Carolina fall day, and the big doors that make up the restaurant’s walls were open, giving every table a wonderful alfresco dining experience.
The bar is huge and well stocked with spirits, wine and beer, including local offerings Holy City “Pluff Mud” Porter and Palmetto Ale.
“We have so many talented breweries in Charleston, frankly, it can be hard to keep up, and to make sure everyone is being represented in some way,” Reitz said.
All in all, Leon’s is a wonderful dining experience with great food.
Reitz met chef Ari Kolender when the two worked at The Ordinary just down King Street. “We became friends and decided to work together after we left,” Reitz said.
“He was considering a move, and I convinced him to stay. Needless to say, I’m happy he did.”
The two also are opening a café, coffee shop and wine bar up the street called Saint Alban.
“We will be open all day, seven days a week,” Reitz said. “The menu will be comprised of smaller dishes, cafe fare that you can eat at any time of the day, really.”
Leon’s Fine Poultry & Oysters, 698 King St. (at the corner of King and I streets, I kid you not), Charleston, 843.531.6500. Parking is just up the block at 688 King St. Open seven days a week, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., and an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights. Oysters are about $12 a serving; chicken is $10 for two pieces of white meat; and most sides are less than $10.