In 2012, Ascension Coffee opened its first location next to Meddlesome Moth in the Design District, and the cafe has taken a full steam ahead approach ever since, opening a roastery about a mile away in 2014 and a second cafe in the Crescent in 2016. Ascension clearly doesn't plan on taking a breather any time soon; two weeks ago, the brand opened its third retail location in downtown’s Thanksgiving Tower.
This rapid growth – while atypical for a Dallas coffee brand – has come with both successes and challenges.
“I think I’ve aged 20 years in the past five,” jokes owner Russell Hayward. “We are only able to grow if the people of Dallas keep our baristas working. At this stage, it seems there is a market for us, but we will only know how much as we move forward.
"Growth is important to any business but it’s not an essential part of the Ascension brand, per se," Hayward says. "If there is demand, we will grow; if not, we will continue to work as hard as we can to select, roast and brew great coffee for our guests.”
This simplicity is evident in the new shop's minimal design, which is a little more restrained than the previous two stores. Even still, the space still feels very “Ascension,” and the haute aesthetic fits right in with the recent renovations at Thanksgiving Tower.
“Our goal is to try and fit the design of Ascension into its environment, both the building it resides within and the immediate community it serves,” Hayward says. He had his eye on downtown for a couple of years before finding a spot that worked.
“When I first saw the space, it felt to me like a museum-like space with tall ceilings and the three sides of floor-to-ceiling glass that flood the space with natural light, as well as provide a ‘picture frame’ of our city view across Elm Street and the daily life of the city from dawn to night," Hayward says. "Following that impression, I wanted to keep the space as simple as possible really, so internally there were minimal distractions setting up our baristas at work, and city life, as the actors on the stage.”
Another similarity to the previous two locations is complicated parking; it is downtown, after all. If you’re not hoofing it from your downtown office space, your best bet may be the metered spaces on the other side of Ervay.
The coffee menu is the same as the other locations, and they are currently featuring Brazil as part of their single-origin feature program, which entails a single-origin espresso offering and a Brazilian batch-brew in addition to Ascension’s house blends, as well as two pour-over options from Brazilian producers the brand’s roasting company works with.
Food-wise, the menu matches the Crescent Court location. Breakfast includes everything from chorizo and jalapeño breakfast tacos ($1.75) served with bright, fresh-tasting house-made salsa to a Croque Madame Benedict ($13) with one one of the best hollandaise sauces in town. There's also a smoked salmon hash ($18) whose smoky salmon, spicy chorizo and dressing of hollandaise and Sriracha is a complex and extra-hearty splurge meal that might necessitate a post-breakfast nap, but damn, is it good.
There are light lunch options like quinoa salad ($9.50). But it's the sandwiches that stand out. While paninis like the soppressata and fig jam ($10) are above average, the Pane Aria sandwiches are where true love lives on this lunch menu. The spicy Italian Pane Aria ($12), with its soppressata and turkey, will live on in your dreams. The soft boursin perfectly contrasts the crunchy bread, and the giardiniere adds spice and acidity. The bread’s crunchy outer layer can occasionally seem abrasive, but like your favorite childhood breakfast cereals, it’s more than worth it.
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Evening options like the sweet and spicy Moroccan lamb flatbread ($13) and a meat and cheese board ($19) will go nicely with a glass of wine off the impressive wine list.
Moving forward, Hayward and Ascension have no plans to tap the breaks just yet, but they don’t want to grow recklessly, either.
“We are looking at many different opportunities, but for me, each cafe needs to deliver a quality experience, and until we can do that over and over again at the cafes we have now, we will be treading forward very carefully,” Hayward says.
Ascension Coffee at Thanksgiving Tower, 1601 Elm St.