In a city of fusion joints and a wack-a-mole-style skyline, where condos and businesses pop up and down by the season, Texas French Bread has been a staple since the early 1980s. The much-loved eatery and bakery has seen it all, while holding strong to values that have kept it afloat for decades.
It’s easy to be intrigued by the blue brick building on 29th Street with bread names cascading down the exterior. The afternoon I stopped by, loaves of bread with floured bottoms and scored tops were lined up on shelves, like trophies waiting to be claimed.
The tables were filled with a lunch crowd in no hurry to Instagram photos of their food as soon as it arrived. They sat comfortably, backs against exposed brick walls, chatting with lunch dates or clipping away at computers. The ease of these patrons told me they were regulars, and a restaurant of regulars means the food and service are worth coming back for.
Texas French Bread’s Floury History
My historian for the day was Murph Willcott: owner, ethos preservationist and bread maker extraordinaire. Willcott inherited his love of bread-making from his mother, Judy, whose floured hands began the family business in 1981. Her baking venture started with a bread order for a Mardi Gras party at Jeffrey’s, another Austin original.
Holding true to Judy’s style, Texas French Bread has stayed diversified. Their offerings run the gamut from loaves and rolls to pastries and cookies. The menu is simple, with no need for panache. Willcott describes his food as “bistro faire,” inspired by the menus of quaint eateries in Europe.
The kitchen staff uses simple ingredients that have been elevated in flavor with a bit of coaxing and time. The example Willcott gave was a beef stew that’s served during the coldest times of winter. The beef starts out tough. It would never be served by itself. But with time and spices, it breaks down into a delicious broth. Texas French Bread’s dishes will fill up the belly without fanfare or denting your wallet.
No Hashtags Needed
Willcott believes that eating out is not a social media opportunity. He misses the days when people relied on word-of-mouth to know whether a place was worth trying. And it didn’t matter if you got a good picture or not, just that the company was good and the food was tasty.
Despite this ideology, everything that comes out of the oven at Texas French Bread is truly beautiful in its simplicity and totally Instagram-worthy. But capturing the beauty in a photo, just to share with followers, is not the point.
Willcott wants people to celebrate the act of eating together. He also wants them to notice the beauty in the humbleness of his ingredients. He has little respect for establishments that sell small plates of intense flavor combinations at insane prices. For him, eating is not about being shocked by a new technique. It’s about enjoying a satisfying meal.
Keeping It Humble and Sustainable
Purple cauliflower from @springdalefarm in the restaurant! pic.twitter.com/FN0J0HQOzG
— Texas French Bread (@TxFrenchBread) January 9, 2016
Texas French Bread follows agriculturally and spiritually sustainable food practices. This means they buy from food producers who grow organic vegetables in a way that’s not harming the earth. Most of the food budget is spent buying from local food growers and ranchers. When people eat at Texas French Bread, they are paying for quality food made with carefully-selected ingredients.
According to Willcott, “If we could get individuals to start getting their hands in the dirt and growing and planting in their own communities, everyone would be healthier, people would have jobs, and the country would be in much better shape.”
More Than a Bakery
Willcott may not like plates that replace quality with overdone technique, but that doesn’t mean he spurns innovation. Currently, he’s experimenting with different grains and wheat strains to create unique types of bread.
He likes to remind people that Texas French Bread isn’t just a bakery or lunch stop. When the sun goes down, the eatery is still running with a delicious dinner menu available Monday through Saturday.
In Austin, it’s easy to get wrapped up in everything new. Before cranes covered the skylines, Austin used to be a sleepy, weird town where people used word-of-mouth to recommend restaurants. Texas French Bread was at the crux of that. Today, you could say they keep it weird by staying humble.
Next time you’re near UT and your stomach is asking for more than a taco, treat yourself to something you can feel good about. You’ll be supporting the community in more ways than one.
2900 Rio Grande St. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you tried Texas French Bread yet?
Texas French Bread is anything but humble. Today I ordered their Trout Nicoise Salad ($12) only to take it to work and find it contained a paltry 2 oz of trout– if that!– on top of some sad, pre-bagged spinach and one egg. I’m still hungry, and now I’m annoyed about wasting my time and money. This restaurant’s price point has always been on the higher side of Austin’s lunch fare, but that fact could (on some days) be justified by their well-turned out food. Today is not that day. I am hungry! This was a total rip-off. Humble, my ass. About as humble as a Californian driving a Prius. #trendy #overpriced #pretentious