It was more than a shock to first hear that Josef Centeno would be taking over Pete's Cafe in the Old Bank District last year. The popular downtown chef has plenty on his plate with nearby Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston and Bäco Mercat, but felt compelled to resurrect the glorified burger bar into something with a bit of playful nostalgia.
Fast forward a few months, and Pete's Cafe is gone (well, in name and menu, at least), replaced by Ledlow
Swan and with a winding focus between mid-century dishes like Baked Alaska and typical, if antique-y in their own way, French menu items. Oh, and not everyone loves the revamped look of the place — especially the locals. This is the Good News/Bad News on Ledlow.
Centeno as Savior: Much was made of Centeno’s decision to partner with original owner Pete McLaughlin, considering the near-exclusive restaurant cluster Centeno now enjoys in the area. The move was also billed as a next-level move for McLaughlin, who had been running Pete’s for more than a decade and knew the restaurant needed to modernize in a big way.
- "Josef is the trifecta: chef, operator and restaurateur. He’s going to bring a really fresh approach to Pete’s." [LA Downtown News]
- "Centeno, as you probably know, is now a baron of downtown dining, and the bit of real estate around 4th and Main, where he owns the restaurants Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston and Bäco Mercat, is occasionally referred to as Centenoland. But nobody quite expected him to take over Pete’s." [LA Times]
Space Walk: Centeno and his team really shined up the old Pete’s space, replacing clunky pieces with a more open, airy feel and sleek bar to match. White tile makes the room pop, while outdoor seating is cozy, comfortable and shaded, though some of the longtime locals have scoffed at the new sheen.
- "Centeno done a complete overhaul of the space, which is more open and airy with gleaming white tiles and counters and sleek black booths." [Zagat]
- "I was quite disappointed in the remodel, bright white subway tile black and white theme, really??? Such an over done look!" [Yelp]
A Strong Sense of Americana: At least initially, Pete’s/Ledlow was billed as a reformatted diner of sorts, with a return to many 20th Century dinner classics that had fallen out of favor.
- "Centeno said he would take his inspiration from James Beard's American Cookery, the classic cookbook by the dean of American cookery, originally published in 1974. Centeno says it was his first cookbook, and will allow him to draw inspiration for a menu of classic American dishes." [LA Weekly]
- "The menu offers dishes ranging from fried chicken "club" to crispy-skin suckling pig to shrimp and uni Newburg." [Gayot]
- "It sounds like the kind of playful and assertive food that has made Centeno the dominant restaurant operator in Downtown’s Old Bank District." [LA Mag]
- "Back in the day, you'd see steak entrecote on every menu. Today it's most likely just going to be listed as a prime rib eye, but this is still a classic interpretation." [Zagat]
- "$26 for shrimp and grits? My taste buds say yes, but my pocket says no, no, no." [Yelp]
Sometimes Shaky Service: With a decent amount of name-swapping and menu fluctuation, perhaps some level of inconsistent service is to be expected. Still, not everyone felt compelled to let the place settle into a comfortable front of house rhythm.
- "The service is non-existent which makes me wonder who is running this joint. No attention to detail. Does anyone care about service." [Yelp]
Naming Rights: There has been talk, of course, of the late-game switcheroo that Pete’s underwent, moving from Pete’s Cafe to Ledlow Swan to just Ledlow in the blink of a December weekend. Centeno himself noted the "evolution" in conversations with Eater, though he was initially adamant about keeping the Pete’s moniker.
- "Though initially there was a discussion of a name change, eventually it was decided that the name would stay Pete's. "Pete’s has been here on this corner since 2002, before any downtown revitalization was really under way," Centeno says. "It paved the way for the opening of restaurants like Bäco Mercat. So Pete’s will keep the name." [LA Weekly]
- Of course! Anyone familiar with his style would recognize the menu as his food but it didn’t fit the old Pete’s. And so the name was squashed. As it should have been when he became the chef. [The Minty]