Merchant House looks like a dollhouse on the outside, an apothecary on the inside. With wacky wallpaper. A strange staircase behind one bar. And black and white photos crammed together, displaying the faces of people nobody knows.
Wes Anderson, are you in here?
Merchant House comes from company that operates a handful of dissimilar restaurants: El Bolero (Mexican), Pakpao (Thai) and Oak (new American).
The restaurant does jibe with one of co-founder Richard Ellman's other eateries, the Royale Magnificent Burgers. That quirky Plano restaurant was expected to take over the address where Merchant House now stands in Dallas until Ellman and his team decided the new restaurant, with its Stepford exterior and unsuspecting interior, needed its own identity.
And so, Merchant House feels like a delightful puzzle. It's located on Maple Avenue in Dallas, in between Italian restaurant Sprezza and upscale barbecue joint 18th & Vine, in an area real estate heavy-hitter Crow Holdings has coined the Maple Avenue District. (Further complicating things, the address for Merchant House was originally supposed to be a Tex-Mex joint. Plans changed.)
Construction across the street, the final phase of Old Parkland, has the potential to bring hundreds of office workers across the street for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Merchant House will do all three, plus brunch on the weekends.
Merchant House is now open; look inside:
Ellman calls both the food and cocktails "global," adding that Merchant House will offer healthy items "with some fun presentations and twists."
Healthy options were important to Ellman, who says many restaurants in Dallas don't attempt heart-healthy, low-cal options in a sit-down atmosphere. Menu items will be identified as "selfless" (shareable for a group) and "selfish" (portioned for one person).
Breakfast will include "elixirs" like juices, shakes and teas, as well as muffins and breakfast tacos. Ellman hopes Merchant House will be an option for breakfast meetings, given the restaurant's proximity to thousands of 9-to-5ers in Uptown, Oak Lawn and downtown Dallas.
The menu includes snacks like pimento cheese on toast and house-made hummus. And it'll include indulgent options like cheesesteaks made with Cheez Whiz as well as a healthy selection of salads.
Merchant House's upstairs lounge and adjoining second-story patio is expected to open at 4 p.m. each day, with the intention that office workers and other customers could come by for happy hour or to reserve the entire second floor for a party.
One dish in particular, the fish and chips, tells a personal story. Ellman grew up in a small beach town in South Africa and remembers a little restaurant called the Red Windmill serving fish and chips.
"These will taste like they did at home," he says.
Merchant House is now open at 4040 Maple Ave., Dallas.