Get Leaded

June 18, 2013 at 1:00pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

A restaurant’s name can communicate all kinds of things, deliberate or accidental, about what awaits customers. The name can describe the joint’s formality (or lack thereof); the type of food it serves; how the food is prepared; and even the quality of service you will receive. What, then, are we to make of the name of one of Lincoln’s newest restaurants: LeadBelly? The word “lead” makes me think of dense, heavy food that will have me waddle out in misery at the end of the meal. And the combined words “LeadBelly” resemble potbelly—not a look I’m going for.

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And yet early reports about the restaurant were positive. Very positive, in fact. This isn’t a Valentino’s Buffet-style stuff-yourself-til-you-hate-yourself kind of experience, they said. Buzz about the food and the atmosphere reflected something quite different from that.

I had to try this place.


LeadBelly Contemporary American Pub is located at 8th and Q in Lincoln’s Haymarket. You’ll recognize the location. It has been the home to no fewer than a half dozen failed restaurants over the years. It’s a location with baggage, yes, but also one with incredible potential. Potential that’s increasing substantially with the impending opening of nearby hotels and, of course, the Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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LeadBelly’s approach is both more traditional than many of the earlier attempts in this building, and curiously eclectic. Perhaps the best thing they’ve done is add outdoor dining with a new patio on both the east and south sides of the building. The experience is, unfortunately, quite noisy right now thanks to nearby construction, but the beepbeepbeep of backing construction vehicles won’t be there for too much longer. The interior is classy, with black booths and a variety of conversation-encouraging tables. The front room features a bar and televisions, while back rooms instead offer tables and booths. It’s cozy without feeling too crowded. Don’t come for a quiet meal, though. Conversation volumes do get a bit high.

I have visited LeadBelly twice, once on a Saturday night and once for a Monday lunch. The restaurant was busy both times. On the Saturday evening we arrived around 6:30pm. Oddly, a sign encouraging patrons to seat themselves greeted us at the door. I don’t know if that’s a regular thing or if it was due to something like a temporary shortage of personnel. Later in the evening a host was managing seating; perhaps it’s seat yourself until the tables are filled? Once we sat at a booth toward the back, we were quickly greeted by our server and offered drinks.

On our lunch visit we snagged a table outside. It took a good five or ten minutes for somebody to come along and clear off the glasses and such left over from the previous patrons. The wait wasn’t very encouraging, but neither was it surprising; a relatively new restaurant is going to face that kind of hiccup on a busy lunch service.

Overall service ranged from fine to very good on my two visits. In both cases the servers were friendly, upbeat, and energetic. They offered recommendations and they were able to speak knowledgeably about most of the items on the menu. Drinks were refilled as expected and the usual “how’s everything going?” questions came at appropriate intervals. Other tables appeared to be receiving a similar level of service. My largest gripe is that our Monday lunch took much too long to come out of the kitchen and, thanks to the slow table clearing at the start, the whole experience dragged a bit. I don’t want to be rushed, of course, but weekday lunch service generally needs to be snappy to get folks back to work.

LeadBelly’s menu (Page 1Page 2, Page 3) is, as I said, both traditional and unique. They offer nachos and salads and burgers and tacos and sandwiches. Pretty typical stuff. Take a closer look at the descriptions in the menu. Intriguing, right?

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I can’t cover the entire menu but I can spotlight a few dishes. The Missus tried the grilled cheese ($7.99) and the tomato soup ($3.49 / $4.49). She described the tomato soup as good, but not necessarily anything to write home about. The sandwich, on the other hand, was a delicious combination of parmesan, provolone, tomato, basil, and garlic aioli on a toasted baguette—a definite step up from the Velveeta on wheat I make at home.

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I went a far less traditional route. While browsing the menu I couldn’t help but get drawn in by the Full Leaded Jacket ($11.99). I had to try it. It’s a burger on a cinnamon roll bun topped with cheddar, chili, queso, sour cream, and jalapenos, and served with corn chips. As with all of LeadBelly’s burgers, you can choose from ground chuck, chicken breast, or a veggie burger. I opted for the veggie burger and it was fantastic. The overall Full Leaded Jacket experience lived up to my expectations. It’s a bizarre meal, one consisting of an appetizer, entree, and dessert all on one plate. But somehow it works. It’s not the sort of meal I plan to eat every time I visit, but I would definitely have it again.

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On my next visit I forced myself to try something very different from the burger. This time I went with the chicken tinga “flatcar” ($10.99). A flatcar is like a taco or tostada served on a crisp corn tortilla. Mine featured chicken, lettuce, and blue cheese. It was served with mild salsa and a side of black beans. It was a slightly messy, but tasty, meal, nicely sized for lunch, but perhaps a bit on the small side for a full dinner. The tortillas were a nice variation from the usual sort of tortilla used for tacos. The beans, though not particularly remarkable on their own, complemented the meal quite well.

I wasn’t alone for lunch that day. I was joined by three fine fellas, @9130khz, @LiquidRetro, and @IMFletcher2. And somehow I came out alive.

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Fletch opted for the huevos ranchero burger ($8.99). He was intrigued by the idea of a fried egg on a hamburger. In addition to the egg, the burger features salsa, romaine, and sour cream. It came with a combination of crinkle-cut and waffle fries on the side. He enjoyed the hamburger and I’m pretty sure he plans to put an egg on every burger he eats from now on.

LiquidRetro sent me this information about a recent trip to LeadBelly:

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On Friday June 14th I ate dinner at LeadBelly with my family for the second time that week.  Parking in the Haymarket was difficult as the parking garage was already full at 6pm.  If going later than 6pm to LeadBelly be prepared to wait. 

Despite being very busy our service was good.  He was very enthusiastic and kept the water glasses full!  I took a gamble and ordered the Fish and Chips ($10.99) after reading several online reviews recommending them and it being a LeadBelly favorite on the menu. The gamble paid off, with what was some of the best Fish and Chips I have had in town.  They were served piping hot, the breading was thick, and super crispy. The menu said it was battered in New Castle beer but I couldn’t really detect the beer flavors.  The tarter sauce was a homemade mayo based that had what tasted like a bit of garlic and onion added in.  It was great for the fish as well as the fries.  The fries were a mix of waffle and crinkle cut that had a special seasoning on them. They were good and the ratio of waffle to crinkle was fine for me.  My only suggestion would be to include another piece of Fish and or a different vegetable side.  The grilled sweet corn side that was included was overcooked and a bit mushy. 

Overall if you like Fish and Chips, it’s a must try at LeadBelly.

All that being said, does LeadBelly have what it takes to break the string of restaurant failures in that location? I think it does, and I think I’m basing that on more than just short-term buzz. The improved outdoor seating, unique menu, and Haymarket expansion all work in LeadBelly’s favor. Their largest challenge at this point appears to be strengthening their service by ensuring customers are greeted well and that food comes out of the kitchen quickly, especially at lunch. If they can do that, LeadBelly may be the first to say that they’ve finally found a winning recipe at 8th and Q.

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The Comments

Mr. T June 18, 2013 at 3:25pm

The grilled cheese and tomato soup probably looks and sounds the most appetizing, followed by the chicken flatcar. I get kind of a “Cheesecake Factory” vibe from this review. A tad on the pricey side for lunch. A $10 lunch menu would probably really fly well there. Otherwise, sounds like a place well worth visiting.

Derek A. June 18, 2013 at 3:48pm

I went for the first time yesterday after getting back from a vacation and hearing it was finally open.

I thought it was a tad pricey, especially for lunch and I didn’t think the quality of the food / portion size reflected the price I paid. I had the Full Leaded Jacket and was expecting something more grandiose for $12.

We also had a few in our group confused by the menu.

Definitely good food, and I’ll definitely go again. Just probably not my first choice for lunch.

Fletch June 18, 2013 at 4:07pm

Good review. I enjoyed my lunch and the company was great. I don’t know how often I will return there as I am just not a big downtown guy. There are certainly other menu items I would like to try.

BigMike June 18, 2013 at 8:26pm

The family ate dinner here on Saturday evening before the Saltdogs game.  I had the Bavarian (Greta’s Gourmet Smoked Sausage) with fries.  The wife had a Turkey Club Sandwich with a side salad.  My oldest daughter chose a kid’s leadbelly burger (ground chuck) and my youngest went with the kids pizza.  Everyone was happy with their meal.  No complaints from anyone and believe me we would have heard complaints if the girls weren’t happy.  My wife’s sandwich was plenty big and the kids said they were satisified.  My wife ordered “warm candied bacon vinegrette” with her salad and found it rather disgusting (I agreed).  What could sound better than “candied bacon.”  Tasted like bacon grease. 

Service was just ok.  Nothing spectacularly bad or good.  Compared to other tables it seemed as though we were left alone more than others.  That can be good or bad depending on the night.  Our server didn’t go out of her way to offer any suggestions or describe anything in detail.  That said, we didn’t ask but nothing was offered either.  I would think that a new establishment would go out of their way to offer suggestions/details. 

One thing I often wonder is if service level is dictated by your initial drink order.  All of us ordered water and our service was ordinary.  Would it have been different if we had ordered sodas, liquor, or beer?

George June 18, 2013 at 9:08pm

Great review smile  We passed this going to the Farmers Market last weekend and everyone commented that they hoped it lasted as that was where all the food joints went to die wink

I want to see a review on Honest Abe’s smile  I’d do one, but I’m incredibly biased and driven firmly by my taste buds.

Mr. Wilson June 18, 2013 at 9:15pm

Tasted like bacon grease.

I’m waiting for you to tell us the bad part.

I would think that a new establishment would go out of their way to offer suggestions/details.

That’s exactly what my two servers (and the others I overheard) did. Yours must not have gotten the memo during training.

One thing I often wonder is if service level is dictated by your initial drink order.  All of us ordered water and our service was ordinary.  Would it have been different if we had ordered sodas, liquor, or beer?

That’s a great question. Perhaps the current and former servers among us can answer it from their perspective.

Mr. Wilson June 18, 2013 at 9:16pm

I need to get up to Abe’s! If we can get a babysitter tomorrow night perhaps The Missus and I will head up there.

Mr. Wilson June 18, 2013 at 9:17pm

We also had a few in our group confused by the menu.

I’m curious about this. Did the descriptions not adequately describe the items? Too many items? Ingredients too unusual?

George June 18, 2013 at 9:28pm

(I have no idea why there are so many happy faces in my reply).

I’m in love with the 8 Second burger.  Add pineapple jam to it and it is simply heavenly.  I have had several of their special hamburgers.  Last week it was Smokey & The Bandit (citrus coleslaw, chunky peanut butter and BBQ)  Sounds dreadful, but those guys are rocket scientists when it comes to finding weird ingredients that go perfectly together!

The only downfall I have with the place is its size + popularity.  You have to pounce on a table within a couple seconds of it becoming vacant or you lose out!  We usually just get ours to go.  I did overhear that the bar “One More Bar” across the way does not serves food but does let you bring food in (lol).

Head to their bakery if you can as well.  They set it up in the ATM kiosk at the front of the parking lot.  Sasquatch Bakery wink

Derek A. June 19, 2013 at 1:44pm

I think a big part of it was too many items. And the burger menu where you choose a patty was confusing to some, especially with sandwiches that had more meat on them. For example, one burger had pork on it as well but the description didn’t make it clear to the person ordering it that it was pork on top of a hamburger.

Mr. Wilson June 19, 2013 at 2:10pm

I can definitely see how that can be confusing. Hopefully their next menu clears that up.

Cedric Satterfield June 19, 2013 at 3:34pm

My wife and I have both been servers, in a past life-for sitdown establishments and ‘truck stop’ fare. Our job was to serve customers, regardless of what size of meal or what drinks they paid for. We’re also in our mid 30s now, so maybe the culture of servers has changed a bit in time, too. None of the places we worked encouraged varied treatment based on meal/drink purchases.

Errandbug Restaurant Delivery June 22, 2013 at 4:34am

I will give you this…I always love reading your reviews.  Sometimes I am tempted to just let you directly post to the errandbug.com site.  You write very well and I am impressed every time.  It is probably what keeps me coming back!  smile

Mr. Wilson June 22, 2013 at 10:12pm

Thank you for the kind words! I love putting these reviews together. I just wish they didn’t take so long. But hey, I get to eat good food so it’s worth it.

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