High on Society

"If you live to be 80 years old, you have 29,200 days to live." That's food for thought at the Dallas cafe that tries to combine both more often than almost anyone cares to. In addition to the blackboard menu of coffee and tea and the one listing daily specials, Cafe Society posts a blackboard menu with a thought for the day. So if you're dining alone, you can literally ruminate. If you're sitting with me, and you want to talk about the remains of the days ahead of you, you can go sit somewhere else.

Cafe Society is a high-concept coffee house. Not only does it take the definition of itself seriously and offer a little history of the phrase on promotional materials--in case you've never heard of cafe society--it also presents regular lectures, poetry readings, and complimentary bohemian black turtlenecks. Just kidding. Cafe Society is sincere about fostering a salon atmosphere. For instance, there really is a bulletin board that posts activities of other arts organizations--like the Festival of the Unexpected, the USA Film Festival, Wordspace, the Women's Chorus--and they really don't seem to care if you come for coffee and sort of stay. All day. But most people come for the best coffee in town--roasted at Cafe Society's headquarters over on Hall Street--and for the food, which for a hassle-free, fairly inexpensive, imaginative meal, is about as good as you can get. Even the self-service, which I complained loudly about when the cafe first opened, has been made easier. You still place your order at the front counter, and you still serve yourself your own coffee or tea (lemons and limes available--two points). But then, as a table marker, you're given a book (ours was a 1948 Roget's Thesaurus) so the server who brings your food can identify you, and you find a place to sit. (It used to be you had to retrieve your food yourself.)

And lately, the food here has been better than ever. Watch for the specials--a sandwich of beef skirt steak, flavorful and sliced thinly enough to be tender, on marble rye, with pesto, was excellent, and came with thin, pale gold fries. The focaccia pizza of the day piled oyster mushrooms, tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, and goat cheese on two wedges of light-crusted, yeasty focaccia bread. It came with a fresh pile of undressed leaves. Chicken salad is mostly white meat and mayonnaise, packed into a big toasted round wheat bun. It was all good, not too heavy, but not noticeably "light" lunch food. The only disappointments were the desserts, which are all made in house. Cheesecake, flavored heavily with lemon zest, had an unpleasantly dense, gluey texture (either the batter was overbeaten or it had the wrong proportion of cheeses). So-called blueberry cobbler was just plain odd--it appeared to be a muffin baked in a bowl and topped with vanilla ice cream, and that's what it tasted like. In fact, that's what it was, but it's a mystery why it was ever called a cobbler. The Mississippi mud pie, a triangle of cookie-crusted fudge-nut filling served warm, was the best idea for an ending.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Cafe Society, 4514 Travis St., (214) 528-6543. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-midnight, Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Cafe Society:
Vegetable Muffaletta $6.25
Grilled Polenta $10.95
Chicken Salad Sandwich $5.95
Wild Rice Salad $6.00

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