Rising to the occasion
Texas French Bread brings promise to the table for dinner
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.
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: