Late this summer, when Travis Blanchette and his fiancée, Nicole Walker, opened Leisure Public House on North Lombard, just a few blocks shy of downtown St. Johns and not far from their Pier Park home, neither had much kitchen experience. Although both had devoted years of service to Portland bars and restaurants, their domain was strictly front-of-the-house. Both knew that if they wanted a slice of the Portland pie they'd have to warm up to the oven first.
Opening night, Roux owner and friend Dwayne Beliakoff helped out in the kitchen, and they've been retracing his footsteps ever since. Food isn't the focus at Leisure; it's a public house, after all, with wine and beer aplenty and a liquor license in the works. Regardless, the short menu of panini and antipasti is surprisingly tasty.
The applewood-smoked bacon panino with Gorgonzola and arugula ($8 with chips and pickles) is a nice combo, and so is the antipasti plate, with crusty olive-oil-drizzled bread served with a choice of toppings ($2.50 each) that includes ramekins of garlicky tapenade, two garden-fresh pestos, goat cheese and a rather bland hummus.
Leisure's five taps include Birra Moretti pilsner and Ninkasi Total Domination IPA ($3.75 micros, $2 domestics), and there are 10 mainly stateside wines ($6 a glass) to choose from.
The retrofitted cleaning-business building (most recently home to the gift shop Greg's, which moved farther west on Lombard) is now low-lit and non-smoking with a built-to-be-fondled bar (courtesy of Jacob Flory of BDMack custom bars) constructed of contoured inlaid fence posts topped with polished concrete.
Beyond the bar—if you can pull yourself away—the space is comfortably furnished with cushioned pews, timeworn tables and chairs, and a jukebox. Even though Leisure is small, there are nooks for hushed conversations and you can always head to the back patio—which used to be the cleaning-business drive-thru—for bocce ball, Ping-Pong and a secret garden. In the works: a back patio roof for year-round revelry. If leisure is to your liking, go here now.
8002 N Lombard St., 289-7606. 4 pm-midnight Monday-Friday, noon-midnight Saturday-Sunday. $