Preston Center continues its journey as one of the city's hottest dining neighborhoods in Dallas with a new restaurant called Peak Grille, taking over the space that was previously Bowen's Cafe Expresso (and before that just Cafe Expresso and way before that, Lombardi's).
New owners Mike and Jessie Lo Johnson bought the restaurant from Valerie Plaster, whose efforts to keep it afloat included naming it after her son Bowen and hiring Tiffany Derry as a consultant to draft up a menu. Alas, not even a Top Chef runner-up could save the day.
The Johnsons are Park Cities residents and experienced restaurateurs who own McSwiggan's Pub in The Colony. Their original game plan was to keep the restaurant open as Bowen's while they executed a makeover. But they discovered that wouldn't be possible.
"We intended to keep Bowen's menu until we were able to finish the remodel, to continue generating revenue and keep the staff employed," Mike says. "That was our concern, that no employees would be let go.
"But we could tell three days into it that the menu wasn't going to work. So we moved forward more quickly and changed it to Peak Grille, then created an interim menu that will get us through to our grand opening in January."
The opening is timed to coincide with their hiring of a "seasoned chef" whose identity they can't yet divulge. But Mike has chef experience and has recipes culled from travels and their previous residence in the Northeast.
"Jessie and I come from New York; I'm a survivor of 9-11," Mike says. "I was in the first building – I'm a former Wall Streeter. We moved here 10 years ago, and five years ago, we opened McSwiggan's. It does very well, but we'll have a different clientele here."
Namely, families. "We have a great pizza oven here we can use to knock out fantastic pizza, so we should be able to get families sitting in the seats," he says. "Bowen's had the Park Cities blue bloods, but we feel like we should be able to go beyond that."
For now, they've instituted an interim menu he describes as eclectic, with salmon, chicken, shrimp and grits cakes, burgers, a couple of steaks, crab cakes, and New England clam chowder. He's also going to do something fairly radical with the wine list: Every bottle they have, they'll offer by the glass.
"If you want a glass of Opus, it'll cost you, but we'll pour you a glass of Opus," he says.
Meanwhile, the makeover continues. They've replaced the floor with planked wood and carpet, ditched the murals, repainted the interior, and await their new outdoor sign. While digging through the storage, they unearthed a slab of carrara marble from the Lombardi's days, which they'll use as a counter near the pizza oven.
"We're rooted here, and we feel like we can bang it out of the park," he says.