Ris­ing to the oc­ca­sion

Texas French Bread brings prom­ise to the ta­ble for din­ner

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & DRINK - By Matthew Odam

Most restau­rants don’t get a sec­ond act. Al­most 30 years af­ter their par­ents opened the orig­i­nal Texas French Bread near the Univer­sity of Texas, Murph and Ben Will­cott de­cided to take the Austin in­sti­tu­tion in a bold new di­rec­tion.

Judy and Paul Will­cott opened the orig­i­nal Texas French Bread near the Univer­sity of Texas in 1981. In a town pop­u­lated at the time with greasy burger joints, Tex-mex and bar­be­cue, the bak­ery’s pop­u­lar fresh breads and baked goods marked an as­pi­ra­tional shift in the Austin food scene.

Over the next sev­eral decades, the store ex­panded its menu and added eight lo­ca­tions around the city. But the ex­po­nen­tial growth proved un­ten­able. Three years ago, the Will­cott broth­ers, who bought the busi­ness from their mother in 2007, de­cided to close two of the re­main­ing three lo­ca­tions to fo­cus on their flag­ship store on Rio Grande Street.

It was time for Texas French Bread to rein­vent it­self.

With an eye on broad­en­ing the res­tau­rant’s of­fer­ings, the na­tive Aus­tinites hosted semi-monthly pri­vate sup­per club par­ties for sev­eral years. The pop­u­lar­ity of those din­ners, which fea­tured lo­cal pro­duce and pro­teins pur­chased at farm­ers mar­kets, led the Will­cotts’ to re-ex­am­ine the mis­sion of Texas French Bread. Last spring the broth­ers ex­panded din­ner ser­vice to six nights a week.

In a town of­ten ob­sessed with ideas of “old” and “new” Austin, Texas French Bread rep­re­sents the city’s past and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of its fu­ture.

The bak­ery in the taupe brick build­ing on the corner of Rio Grande and 29th streets has been in the Texas French Bread fam­ily since 1987. In the evening, the bright, airy space with orange win­dow frames and lighted-glass cases dims. With heavy cur­tains drawn over the res­tau­rant’s many win­dows, the cozy space em­braces din­ers. The red neon “din­ner” sign above the door softly il­lu­mi­nates the din­ing room with the help of can­dle­light at each ta­ble, and the lamp­posts on the corner of the nar­row streets make you feel as if you’ve just stepped into a bistro in a busy Paris neigh­bor­hood. The mix of Jack­son Browne and John Coltrane on the stereo plays at a vol­ume loud enough to pro­vide am­bi­ence with­out over­whelm­ing the con­ver­sa­tions of an 2900 Rio Grande St. 499-0544, tex­as­french bread.com 7.5 out of 10 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mon­days through Satur­days; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun­days

Ap­pe­tiz­ers and sal­ads $6-$13. En­trées $14-$22.

Rat­ing: Hours:

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What the rat­ing means:

The 10-point scale is an av­er­age of weighted scores for food, ser­vice, value, am­bi­ence and over­all din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, with 10 be­ing the best.

Texas French Bread ex­pands its hori­zons and re­po­si­tions it­self in the Austin food scene with their farm-to-ta­ble din­ners.

The Bot­tom Line:

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