LeadBelly may be the one to break the curse. Finally.
Located on the first floor of the historic Seaton & Lea building at 301 N. Eighth St., the new restaurant appears to have the chops and resources to succeed where many restaurants have not.
Since I began writing about restaurants for Ground Zero in 1998, the site has been home to La Paloma, Brazen Head, Baciami, Eighth Street Ironworks, Magnolia and Capital City Grill.
Opened May 28, LeadBelly has seen a steady stream of hungry diners, including several repeat customers.
The restaurant is run by Red Herring Concepts, owned by Tony and Wendy Young and Michael Martin -- the shaggy-haired, bearded fellow you’ll see working tirelessly at the new restaurant.
The trio also operate Toast, the successful bar and grill in Fallbrook.
LeadBelly calls itself a “Contemporary American Pub,” with a menu filled with a variety of gourmet burgers, tacos, sandwiches and salads.
The menu also features a handful of entrees, including chicken-fried steak, banger and mash, and fish and chips.
The specialties are LeadBellies, which is a twist on the fast-casual concept. Diners first pick their patties -- hamburger, grilled chicken breast or a veggie burger -- and then choose one of the 13 “toppings.” LeadBellies range in price from $7.99 to $10.99 and are served with a mix of waffle and crinkle-cut fries.
Popular LeadBellies so far have been the Raspberry Beret ($8.99), which includes jerked ginger peanut butter, jalapeno raspberry jam, Romaine lettuce, red onion and smoked candied bacon atop a patty, and the Full Leaded Jacket ($11.99), featuring a cinnamon roll, white cheddar cheese and chili atop a patty. It’ll take you back to your school-lunch days.
“People who grew up here get (the idea) immediately,” Martin said. “Those from not around here, look at it and say, ‘Huh?’”
As you can imagine, the Full Leaded Jacket is messy to eat as are many of the sandwiches, tacos and appetizers. I used a knife and fork on my Croque Madame ($9.49), a ham sandwich with tarragon cheese sauce and a fried egg atop the toasted baguette.
My wife, Rebecca, and I scored on three of our four entree choices on our two-night visit as well as on our appetizer and dessert choices.
Rebecca was quite pleased with her Asada tacos ($10.99), which featured seasoned (I say salty) grilled rib eye, peppers, onions, lettuce tomato and pepper jack cheese atop two fried corn tortillas. It was served with some tasty Southwest-seasoned beans and salsa.
I enjoyed the Cowabunga LeadBelly, which included blackened shrimp and blue cheese atop my hamburger ($9.99), more than my Croque Madame, which was tasty, but rich (because of the cheese sauce) and heavy.
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We were disappointed with the “must try” fish and chips. The cod featured a Newcastle beer batter, but they were overbattered and overcooked, leaving the fish chewy and tasteless.
LeadBelly does have a “must try” appetizer menu, with many unique selections. Our server recommended the Philly Egg Rolls ($7.99), which were exactly as they sound -- Philly fixings in an egg roll and served with a cheese sauce.
Dessert is pie, with twists on favorites. We had an apple pie that included melted white cheddar and bacon. Rebecca didn’t like the bacon part of it, but I found the saltiness of the bacon a nice contrast to the sweetness of the apples. Grade: B+
Rebecca and I were impressed. We dined at the restaurant on busy Friday and Saturday nights, arriving around 5:45 p.m. just before the dinner rushes.
Servers on both occasions were adept at explaining the LeadBellies. They also were quick with recommendations.
The “wow” factor was the turnaround time. On both occasions, our food arrived no more than 10 minutes after ordering.
Diners seat themselves -- as they would at any Lincoln sports bar -- until tables are filled and a waiting list is required.
We had one glitch. My wife ordered the pork tacos after she was assured the citrus slaw didn’t have celery, which, in her words she “detests.” It had celery. Our server was quick to take care of it, and Martin stopped by the table to apologize. Grade: B
LeadBelly focused most of its renovation on a new, raised patio (already a diner favorite) and the main dining room.
The restaurant moved its entrance from the east to the south side, freeing up more table space in the northeast corner of the main dining room. Gone from the room, finally, are the many walls, which Brazen Head installed to give it an Irish pub feel. The room is now open and more inviting.
Four large, red-padded, half-moon-shaped booths face the bar and can seat as many as six. Hanging lights with giant circular shades hover above each booth.
Without the walls, the main room is loud (a detriment for some), so those looking for less noise, more intimacy and smaller tables can head back to the second dining area or the train car, which LeadBelly also uses for large parties. Grade: B
LeadBelly prides itself on its vegetarian options, designating them on the menu with a “v.” Two of my co-workers speak highly of the VeggieBelly ($7.99), a homemade patty of broccoli, pecans, red onion and bean sprouts on toasted brioche with a garlic roasted mayo, and the Vegetarian Po’ Boy ($7.99), Newcastle-battered artichoke hearts, baby corn and tomatillos, with Romaine, red onion and sriracha mayo on a toasted baguette. Grade: A