Aromas of baking sourdough, amber rye, and brioche bread waft from the ovens of Texas French Bread, winner of the Austin Chronicle's Restaurant Poll Readers award for Best Bread in 2009, 2010, and 2011. For the past three decades, these ovens have been churning out artisan breads, pastries, and desserts made from scratch, and under the helm of brothers Ben and Murphy Willcott, the ovens now cook a dinner menu of local and sustainable rustic French fare, earning a place in the top five on the Growers Alliance of Central Texas's Truly Local 2011 restaurants survey. Yet neither of the brothers set out to be bakers. Murph, a Harvard law-school graduate and lawyer, and Ben, a student of English literature, both enjoyed staying up late, cooking, and coordinating aprons with spatulas so they decided to take over Texas French Bread with the goal of turning it from bakery into bistro because, as Murph claims, "rock star and/or Hollywood movie mogul seemed like a stretch."
In the kitchen, Ben crafts a weekly rotating menu hewn under the guidelines of famed chef Alice Waters, with local, fresh, and simple ingredients from the urban farms of Boggy Creek and Angel Valley, served in season at their peak. Meanwhile, the pastry chef sculpts key-lime tartlets, cupcakes, and cream puffs to accompany cups of coffee or espresso drinks made with locally roasted beans from Anderson's Coffee Company. The house blend combines premium East African beans with a Costa Rican hard bean, barrel-cooked to a medium-brown, full-city roast to jump-start mornings without licking a car battery.
It was a fateful night in January 1999 when the bellies of college sophomores Leon and Tiffany started to rumble. The two UT Austin students convened at Leon's apartment, where they whipped up a batch of chocolate-chip cookies in his oven. As they chewed on the warm, gooey fruits of their labor, the pair was struck by the idea to sell these freshly baked cookies to their fellow students. They began delivering treats to their peers during evening study breaks before expanding their customer base to include parents and Austin residents, all the while renting the back kitchen of a local restaurant to accommodate the growing demand.
Fifteen years later, the indulgent lure of Tiff's Treats has helped Leon and Tiffany open 13 locations throughout Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Within these bakeries, kitchen crews sculpt fresh dough into 10 types of cookies, supplementing the gooey morsels with decadent brownies and signature Tiffwiches?vanilla Blue Bell ice cream sandwiched between two warm cookies. Bakers hand-deliver batches every day, pulling them fresh from the oven instead of the overheated engine block of the delivery car.
Inspired by the ice-cream namesake, the bakers of Cupprimo Cupcakery layer three flavors of batter into the neapolitan cupcake, and they go a step beyond conventional by capping the cupcake off with a two-frosting swirl. That colorful and original concoction was part of owner Amy Brown’s arsenal when she battled another local baker on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Though she didn’t win that bout, Amy and her desserts aren’t without decoration; her s’more cupcakes garnered a spot in the Austin Chronicle’s Best of 2011 lineup, hailed as “an incredibly sticky mash-up of deliciousness.” These flavors join a rotating menu that also includes simple chocolate and strawberry flavors and creative honey-chai and mimosa cupcakes that, like a celebration of 11:14 a.m., can be enjoyed on a daily basis.
The salty hint of peanut butter contrasts the velvety tang of fresh cream and the bitter spice of dark chocolate and chilies within a scoop of peanut-butter mole. This type of flavor complexity is common at Ice Cream Social, reflecting Lee and Meredith Dockery’s commitment to elevating ice cream from mere dessert to gourmet delicacy. They perch a rotating cast of ambrosial ice creams and sorbets inside chocolate-dipped waffle cones, adorning them with haute toppings such as cardamom-toasted coconut and miniature top hats.
The scoops are all the more striking considering they originate from a modest bus parked on Jessie Street. Once patrons have collected their treats from the window, they can savor them in the surrounding parking lot outfitted with umbrella-shaded tables and the occasional live band.
Whether at the local farmers' market or neighborhood grocery store, Mrs. Melody is always on the hunt for fresh ingredients. Her method for grocery shopping, as well as baking, comes from her childhood in southwest Louisiana. Paying homage to the women who taught her to cook, Mrs. Melody follows family recipes to craft more than 10 types of made-to-order cake pops. She flavors the two-bite nuggets with Bailey's Irish Cream, lavender flowers, Mexican vanilla, rosemary, and other bold ingredients. Beyond cake pops, she prepares salty butterscotch pretzel See-Saws, sweet-potato loaves, and cupcakes. Mrs. Melody also takes requests for items not on the menu and prepares special treats for holidays and milestones such as baby's first cavity.
Ruby Lorraine Feagan, also known as Tootie, was a small-town woman known far and wide for her scrumptious homemade pies. When she retired her bakery in 2005, Don Merrill bought her recipes and Tootie’s daughter became the VP of Baking. Tootie Pie Gourmet Café was born, eventually growing into multiple locations in Austin. The pie shop truly does live up to its reputation – this is the place to get those pies like your grandmother used to bake, complete with flaky crusts and melt-in-your-mouth fillings. You can buy by the slice or the whole pie, and even have them shipped to you anywhere in the United States. The gourmet café side also sells homemade sandwiches and soups, which can be eaten inside the homey space, wrapped in stone walls and filled with local artwork.