"How do you get a hot dog to stand up?" I'd just walked into s?rj, the new coffee shop downtown, and co-owner John Walsh had asked me if I'd like to hear the joke of the day. It's not exactly the sort of question you can comfortably say no to.
"You pull the chair out from under it," he answered, finally. This is your welcome to this part coffee shop, part bookstore, part soupsteraunt, park joke factory that opened recently in downtown Dallas.
The walls are lined with wood from shipping palates, lending a reclaimed look to most of the surfaces. There are books for sale, which is hardly novel after the advent of Wild Detectives, but s?rj boasts a small, curated selection that is all its own. Purple colors pop from the tablecloths and a small section of the wall. It's unlike any other coffee shop in Dallas, and the air is filled with the scent of chicken stock that had been turned into a number of different soups.
The soup is the product of Anne Holcomb's labor. The pair also own Dallas Soup Company, which until this point had served mostly corporate clients. The day I visited, there was a chicken tortilla, poblano and a roasted corn with shrimp version, but the soups will rotate daily. There are pastries, muffins and other baked goods that you'd expect in a neighborhood coffee shop, but there are no sandwiches. Apparently the Subway next door is siting on a long-term lease with a number of requirements for tenants who share the building. Among them is a strict no-sandwich clause.
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The pastries, muffins and other baked goods are from small local bakeries, as is the ice cream they will serve outright or blend into a milkshake. And the coffee is from Noble Coyote, brewed into espresso, pour overs, press pots and all the usual extraction methods you see at modern coffee shops.
What's more interesting is that the place is set to expand. The adjacent space has been rented, and more of those palate boards are tacked to the walls each day. When the space is done it will play host to debates, readings and movie screenings, and based on the Frank Sinatra playing in the main room those movies will lean toward classic.
Look for evening hours coming soon, and don't forget that all that soup changes daily. Stop in on a cold and blustery day and you never know what you'll get. But maybe make sure you have a decent joke at the ready. You don't want to feel under prepared.
400 North St. Paul St., 469-759-3585, serjbooks.com