Old Lake Highlands is a sleepy neighborhood. Perched on a hill overlooking the city, it’s known more for its views and proximity to White Rock Lake than anything else. That may be changing.
At the intersection of North Buckner Boulevard and Northcliff Drive lies White Rock Center, a small strip mall that sat virtually empty for years. Over time, businesses and restaurants returned, staking out space and filling a void in the community. BarNone is the latest to open its doors, aiming to welcome the neighborhood.
The restaurant is the newest venture from Todd Dickerson and his wife Jennifer. Dickerson cut his chops in the restaurant industry with more than 20 years’ experience as a managing partner at Angry Dog in Deep Ellum. For BarNone, Dickerson wanted to move away from the commotion of Dallas’ popular strips and focus on a neighborhood that’s close to him.
“I didn’t want to do a Greenville Avenue or Deep Ellum. I didn’t want to be in a party district or a restaurant district. I just wanted to be a neighborhood place,” Dickerson says. “We've lived in East Dallas, not necessarily this neighborhood, but I've always lived in East Dallas since I moved here. So, I knew I wanted to do East Dallas.”
“There are a lot of dishes in Dallas — a lot of dishes that I grew up with in the Northeast and down South — that are hard to find in Dallas, so that was the first objective,” Dickerson says. “I don't want to have to drive over to Louie’s just to get clams casino or go to Fred's Downtown Philly to get a cheesesteak. So, there's things on the menu that there's only like one or two restaurants in town that have, and I just decided I was going to have them.”
As mentioned, the clams casino is reminiscent of Louie’s, there’s a cheesesteak and cheesesteak egg rolls, the Cioppino is a take on Rex’s Seafood’s Manhattan-style clam chowder, and a spin on the burger at Hillstone made with 10 ounces of house-ground Rosewood Ranch Wagyu beef. Even the cocktail menu has nods to local watering holes.
The menu showstopper is the Sunday gravy and rigatoni, a dish that Dickerson would make at home for friends. It’s a heaping portion — big enough to serve two or more — of thick tomato sauce, tender pasta, Jimmy’s sausage, whipped herb ricotta and copious amounts of garlic butter. It’s as savory as it is indulgent.
“Literally, the whole menu is just stuff that I like, and I hope that Dallasites like it, too,” Dickerson says. “I’m taking a really big risk hoping that people like garlic as much as I do or hamburgers that are 2 ounces bigger than your standard burger. Just things like that.”
While the menu and location came naturally — Dickerson’s children go to school around the corner at St. John’s Episcopal School — getting the restaurant open proved to be a struggle. Initially, Dickerson planned to open BarNone in October 2019. He says complications with the lease negotiations stalled the opening, and then COVID-19 hit.
BarNone opened to the public Dec. 4. That first night, it was busy — as busy as it could be operating at 50% capacity, Dickerson notes. Opening in the midst of a pandemic with dining restrictions in place is proving to be a challenge, but he commends his staff for the work they’re doing.
But it’s not just the pandemic that could impede the success of BarNone. When Venture Commercial purchased the property around five years ago, they promptly raised the rent for all existing tenants — running off almost every business — and painted the property a matte white, like so many banal two-story new builds springing up in the neighborhood. At least a dozen storefronts still sit empty. High rents persist.
“I’m literally paying five times more rent than I was paying at the Angry Dog. Five times,” Dickerson says. “And that’s Deep Ellum, downtown. This is kind of the edge of East Dallas.”
“I think we've been fairly well-received, and people are really going out of their way to stop by even if they're not coming in,” Dickerson says. “We've had several people that don't go out to restaurants [because of] COVID, they've ordered takeout and told us, ‘We're not really even ordering takeout from any place, but we just want to make sure that y'all felt welcome.’ It's been great.”
BarNone, 718 N. Buckner Blvd., No. 100 (Old Lake Highlands). 214-924-3742. Open 3 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Saturday; and 3 to 11 p.m. on Sunday.