Lemon Leaf is one of the AV's destination restaurants and a really nice dining choice when you are out and about on the BLVD in downtown Lancaster. The food is Greek with some Italian undertones, trendy and just plain delicious — which is not plain at all.

Maria Elena Grado had a dream about her restaurant, which is, in her words, “To serve clean and fresh food in a comfortable setting that will inspire you to call your friends and say: ‘Meet me at the Leaf.’”

What can I say, except that Maria Elena Grado made her own dream come true and she’s living the dream to the great enjoyment of all who have ever met anyone at “The Leaf.”

She wanted a neighborhood destination for a bite to eat, but a good deal more than that. 

Many of her menu items are prepared and baked fresh daily, from her grandmother’s treasured recipes and so when you see those words written on the front of  the lunch and dinner menus, it is quite clear that she means it.

My friends, Joy and Anne and myself, stopped by for lunch the other day. We walked up to the counter, to peruse the menu and started ordering first a salad, then a pizza, then a wrap, then pasta and then a dessert! We might as well get the whole experience, don’t you think? 

I needed to try some of the different entrees so I could get a really good feel for their lunch menu. 

From the salad menu, we chose the grilled salmon insalate (a fresh cut salmon filet, served over insalate mista (simply put, mixed greens). However, this was no simple salad, it was a work of art. The marinade is the secret to this fabulous-tasting salmon, plus the delicious dressing and pine nuts put it over the top. 

It had to be the best-tasting salmon I have ever had and it is also served as an entrée over house-made garlic mashed potatoes or as a pasta dish over Italian imported black spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic. It was a very nice way to start off our lunch.

Now it’s time to talk about the pizza. We chose the spicy Mediterranean vegetable, minus the spicy jalapeño. 

It’s a thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza with mozzarella, a grilled zucchini and eggplant mix, roasted red peppers, green chile and feta cheese. The pizza seemed like two treats in one — the delicious toppings and the buttery, crunchy sides of the crust. All those wonderful flavors all mixed together made for an incredible-tasting pizza, with a slight kick. Hats off to the chef!

The wraps are served on lavash bread (flatbread) stuffed with fresh ingredients and served with pasta salad. The one we chose was egg salad and the question we wanted answered was, “What do they put in their egg salad?” 

Egg salad can be so bland, but they have a secret ingredient that makes the sandwich come to life.  It’s a very yummy and moist flavor all wrapped up with lettuce on the amazing-tasting bread. Each bite was a true delight and the highlight of the day. Even the bowtie pasta salad was amazing, as it was cold, crisp and delicious.

The chicken mushroom fettuccine was another hit. The pasta had the perfect amount of sauce and a mushroom for every bite. We thoroughly enjoyed every morsel and to make it even better, a basket of freshly made bread bites and real butter was included.

 You all know my meal isn’t complete without ending on a sweet note and at Lemon Leaf, dessert is an event. 

The choices were endless, from their signature lemon tart to the Valrhona chocolate cake (made with real French Valrhona chocolate, it’s an old-fashioned decadent cake with buttercream frosting). Anne kept raving about the orange coffee dream cake, and boy, dreaming is what you do when you are eating this cake. 

It’s orange chiffon cake topped with coffee-buttercream frosting. This was her grandmother’s recipe, used for all family members’ birthdays. I will be dreaming of this flavor for days to come. There are only two words to describe this: absolutely fabulous.

That’s just a sample of their lunch menu, but the thing to remember about the Lemon Leaf is, they are a perfect event place for dinner. Because of the way the tables are arranged in the brick-facing traditional interior, one part of the room can accommodate a family and the other end of the room is perfect for a business proposal.

The dinner menu is more cause for celebration. They do heavenly things with chicken, seafood and pasta. Plus, the menu boasts a very delicious steak that I have had quite a few times. The New York strip steak is grilled with simple Greek seasoning and served on a bed of house garlic mashed potatoes. The flavor can’t be beat and it is tender and juicy, to boot. 

The coffee is going to be excellent and they serve one of the more interesting local assortments of beers from Europe, abroad and from our local breweries, as well, (Bravery and Lucky Luke’s), and who doesn't want the occasional glass of wine?

Lemon Leaf Café is on the BLVD in historic downtown Lancaster, at 635 W. Lancaster Blvd., 661-942-6500. 

You can find lunch and dinner menus at www.lemonleaf.com and reward yourself with a fabulous meal and a wonderful time. 

Bon appetit!

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