I Can Eat 50 Eggs: Texas French Bread

 
In honor of Paul Newman and “Cool Hand Luke,” I’ll review 50 days of eggs from 50 different restaurants.
 
Day 39: Texas French Bread
2900 Rio Grande St. 499-0544, www.texasfrenchbread.com.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Dinner 6 to 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 02.08.12
 
Coffeeshop, bakery and sandwich place by day, bistro by night. You can tell by the curtain covering the largest of Texas French Bread’s chalkboards that this is a different animal when the sun goes down. The display cases with that renowned Hyde Park Fudge Cake aren’t even lit. But dozens of votive candles are. The bakery that once had a handful of Austin outlets has been distilled to this one shop, and they make it count.
 
The single room is small, with the feel of a meeting hall where all the furniture has been pushed back to make a dancefloor. Except in reverse, because the dancing on a recent Friday took the form of farmers market dishes on tables filled to capacity, with another dozen people crowded into the back hall waiting for a turn to dance. Everybody but me got the memo that TFB is BYOB, and for a $6 corkage fee, they’ll open, chill and serve whatever wine expresses you best. (Riunite on ice. That’s nice.)
 
Brothers Murph and Ben Willcott run the show, with Murph working the front and Ben heading up the kitchen, where he’s joined by Mike Hamley and Kenny Gray, a recent alumnus of Fino and Annies Cafe here and London’s River Cafe and Petersham Nurseries Cafe before that. Together, they turn out the kind of curated small menu that draws a clientele ranging from young 20s to seniors, but the sweet spot seems to be late 40s, early 50s. For once, I don’t have to feel like I’m too old and unhip for a room where the menu hangs out with the cool kids.
 
A bowl of wide, flat pappardelle pasta dressed with chorizo and spinach could stand on its own, especially with a bread plate built from the bakery’s stock of baguettes, French bread and dusted ciabatta. The noodles shrug off uniformity for the roller-coaster texture and swerve of handmade pasta, weaving in pieces of sausage with spice that delivers character without heat and pockets of spinach with a little bite left in them. What drives this $18 dish is a poached egg that’s been dredged in bread crumbs and fried to a fragile crunch, the amber crust like a new shell to crack and release the yolk to forge a sauce that pulls the whole dish together. The fact that this egg could be cooked, fried and mounted on a bowl of steaming pasta without compromising the yolk speaks to solid technique in the kitchen and a little anticipatory drama at the table.
 
That pasta-and-egg dish comes and goes with the meticulously seasonal menu, but the waitress said it’s a fairly regular guest. Check the website, where the menu gets an update every few days. Even without the carbonara-style egg on top, the pappardelle is made with 40 egg yolks per batch, with about two of those per bowl, Gray said. That counts as an entry in my 50 Eggs diary.
 
If you like your eggs upfront, there are always “scrambled yard eggs” on the breakfast menu for $7.25 with toast and fries. They’re crayon-box yellow, steaming and fluffy. And at a place with “bread” in the name, the wheat toast with sesame seeds doesn’t need butter or jam, but it’s there. It’s a breakfast as simple as the night menu is sophisticated, a kind of sunrise-sunset cycle for a restaurant survivor.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
 
 
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