Through the years, the owners at Expressly Leslie may have changed, but the crux of the restaurant has remained the same: fresh, homemade vegetarian food made daily with Middle Eastern flair.
The idea for the Expressly Leslie first started in 2007 when Leslie Cook started whipping up her favorite vegetarian food for festivals and farmers’ markets. Cook then opened up a brick and mortar spot in Caputo’s in Algonquin before finding the current home in the market in Woodstock, 110 S. Johnson Street, in 2009.
“We’ve been here ever since,” manager Laura Owsley says. “A lot of restaurants can’t say that. We’re growing and have new people here every day.”
Owsley has been the constant through the years, working diligently behind the scenes to provide the beloved vegetarian food even after Leslie decided to move on from the restaurant. Owsley originally started working for Leslie around 10 hours a week just to help out, and now she is a full-time manager and the brain behind most of the food served.
“All of our food is made from scratch daily,” Owsley says. “Nothing gets opened from a container and dumped in a pot. A lot of people can come here because we make everything from scratch.”
The restaurant is counter-service based, with a lot of their business coming from carry out orders. There are only 6-7 indoor tables for seating, but in the summer, they have tables outside as well.
During the winter months, there is always a fresh pot of either soup or chili on the stove. Due to the nature of the business and the daily quantity and demand, sometimes food options run out as the day goes on.
“You can’t walk in anywhere and get homemade hummus and falafel,” Owsley says. “Our pita is made fresh from a bakery in Chicago, all of our beans are 50-pound bags of dried beans. I can’t just run to the Jewel and get some of the items we need to make our food.”
You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy their extensive menu, because many of the food options don’t even come across as meatless. Expressly Leslie doesn’t offer tofu or fake meats, but Owsley notes that many of their food items are hearty and bear a resemblance to meat. One of the notable meals is the mushroom sloppy Joe, which she says you can’t even tell are mushrooms.
“All of our food is vegetarian and mostly vegan,” Owsley says. “But not even all of our customers are vegetarians.”
Daily specials highlight some of their customer favorites, including a very popular southwest pizza on Tuesdays. It features a smoky black bean hummus, red peppers, eggplant salad, mozzarella, an avocado corn salsa on top with chipotle mayo and a wedge of lime.
Another fan favorite is a twisted omelet, which is a three-egg omelet with spinach, mushroom, feta cheese rolled up in a pita.
“It’s a hearty thing,” Owsley says.
Expressly Leslie has a focus on vegetarian foods, but since they make everything from scratch, they have the capability of catering to anyone with dietary needs like gluten-free or vegan food.
Leslie may not be around her restaurant anymore, but in addition to the legacy she left with her delicious food and healthy lifestyle contribution, she also left one other thing behind: a plaque that reads, “It’s worth the wait.”