Dining Out

Leña’s Bagels

A Pizza and Bagel Restaurant in Cleveland, Mississippi

Leña Local Palate DOYLE
Written by Jim Beaugez, Images courtesy of Rory Doyle
Leña Local Palate DOYLE

It’s tempting to romanticize the long hours Marisol and Rory Doyle spent learning how to make pizza in Naples, Italy, forming dough by hand in the Neapolitan tradition in a bustling pizzeria where their lessons ended up in the hands of actual customers.

But most Saturdays at Leña, the pizza and bagel shop the couple opened in 2023 in the Mississippi Delta town of Cleveland, look similar—if only half a world away.

“I’ve had people waiting in their cars, and as soon as I open we start getting a line,” Marisol says as she tends the restaurant’s wood-fired oven one recent Saturday afternoon. “And today, actually, we sold out our bagels. We opened at nine, [and when] we got done with all the tickets I was like, ‘It must be 10:30.’ It was 9:34.”

A native of Ciudad Obregón in the Mexican state of Sonora, Marisol moved here with her husband, Maine native and photographer Rory Doyle, in 2009 and began working in restaurants. She and a friend established Big River Bagels in 2016, selling hand-formed sourdough bagels at pop-up storefronts and farmers markets.

After that venture folded, she briefly left the business but missed the fast-paced environment and hands-on work. She knew a bagels-only shop couldn’t sustain itself, but the idea of pairing it with pizza held promise. So, in June 2022, the Doyles decamped to Naples where the popular flatbread pies originated.

When they returned, they set up an Ooni oven in their backyard and began making pizzas for friends, perfecting their processes and experimenting with ingredients. They found a spot to establish Leña on the revitalized Cotton Row in downtown Cleveland, where a boutique hotel and shops face each other across a raised walking trail where the Illinois Central Railroad once ran. At the cleanly appointed, shotgun-style storefront, Marisol leads a small staff, preparing and serving a rotating roster of pizzas nightly, Thursday through Saturday.

“The menu is different every week,” she says, “so usually Thursdays people come in and want to try a new pizza, and then Fridays we have people sit down, have a bottle of wine. Saturdays, people come from all over—I’ve had people from Greenwood, Greenville, Oxford, Memphis, who have seen us on social media or [heard through] word of mouth.”

In the Neapolitan style, Leña prepares its dough using just four ingredients: 00 flour, water, fresh yeast, and salt. Using 00 flour, although authentic, means a longer fermentation process than normal. Marisol lets her dough set up for a total of 48 hours before hand tossing, topping with marinara and other ingredients, and baking at 800 degrees in an oak-fed oven. “As soon as you drop a pizza, you see it rise,” she says.

Menu mainstays include the Margherita and PepperRory—named for Rory, who never met a pizza he didn’t like, whether it came from a gourmet shop, a chain restaurant, or the freezer section at the local supermarket—while pies like the portobello, made with Marisol’s own portobello mushroom parmesan sauce, the prosciutto arugula, and the spicy soppressata lend a more daring flair to the experience.

The Sonoran, topped with refried beans, mozzarella, chorizo, and a roasted jalapeño salsa, is a tribute to her home. “And if you have any leftovers,” she says, “it’s great the next day with a fried egg on top.” She has also used beef rib meat, another nod to Sonora, with a red sauce, mozzarella, cilantro, and pickled onions.

As word of Leña spreads, the Doyles are encouraged by the enthusiasm for their pizza and bagels from their Cleveland neighbors. “We bought our first home here and made friends, and people in the community always cheer you on,” she says. “They want to know what’s next and they want to support you. And so far, they’ve accepted something different.”

Leña Local Palate DOYLE

What to Order at Leña’s Pizza + Bagels

PepperRory Pizza | The house tomato sauce base and basil shine under the generous serving of pepperoni covering Leña’s inspired take on the classic pepperoni pizza. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try the even meatier sausage PepperRory.

Portobello Pizza | Portobello mushroom slices top this white-sauce pizza made with Marisol’s own portobello parmesan sauce, alongside a spread of mozzarella and fontina cheeses, with an oven-toasted crust you won’t leave on the side of your plate.

Jalapeño Cheddar Bagel | Leña boils and bakes their bagels per usual, but the magic emerges with the blistered, crispy edges of cheddar and jalapeño peppers delivered courtesy of the same wood-fired oven they use to cook pizzas. Available Saturday mornings only.

Everything Bagel | “Everything” should say it all, but it comes up short to describe the experience of Leña’s everything bagel. They pack a dense mixture of sesame and poppy seeds, onion, garlic, and other seasonings for a jolt of flavors.

about this restaurant

  • Chef

    Marisol and Rory Doyle

  • Address

    331 Cotton Row
    Cleveland, Mississippi

    • Fast Casual

    • Breakfast Spots

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