Bread Winners Cafe in Uptown Dallas is practically an institution, with its baked goods, elaborate brunch items and hangover cures routinely drawing a clamoring crowd.
Years ago, I went there and waited for what I seem to remember was most of my 20s for a table.
I wrung my hands over a possible repeat experience at the new Fort Worth location in University Park Village. Before my visit, I called, but it wasn’t yet taking reservations. So we went on a weekday and rolled the caloric dice.
Around noon on a recent Wednesday, we walked right in to the place, a handsome re-do of a former Blue Mesa Grill (which relocated to 612 Carroll St. in the West Seventh Street area).
White walls and small rustic touches abound, but the layout is the same as the former tenant’s. You know where you used to grab those free happy-hour quesadillas and addictive chips by the handful? That’s now where an extravagant bakery idles, ogling you, virtually daring you to loiter in its sugary haze.
But you’re headed for a table first — hopefully not one in the front room, where the noise at lunch was almost deafening. Who knew office crowds could be this raucous?
We took a deep booth at the back, near the empty patio, which actually looked alluring despite the 90-degree heat.
Inside, we succumbed to the mini-chain’s notoriously hospitable plate of gratis pastries. Wedges of cinnamon roll shared space with slivers of an excellent lemon blueberry bread.
Bread Winners offers breakfast and lunch until 4 p.m., so we were in the equivalent of a menu witching hour, as our table suggested with its plethora of laminated double-sided menus. Because of the two kids in the mix, we even had picture books (which feature the kids menu taped inside) occupying the space.
A deep silence prevailed over the group. How else to determine what to eat? First, who wanted breakfast and who lunch? The diner-esque offerings span sandwiches to salads, burgers to tortilla rollups, blue-plate specials to Benedicts, fried chicken with waffles and rib-eyes with eggs.
The disparate dishes contributed to a misstep — ordering a soda to go with my vegetarian Benedict ($13), instead of perhaps a cup of coffee (made with Segafredo-Zanetti beans) or even an iced cappuccino.
Another incongruity was the dish itself, two over-easy eggs — not the traditional poached — atop pieces of roasted broccoli, asparagus and artichoke hearts. I enjoyed the crunchy vegetables, which were flavorful and well seasoned between the eggs and English muffin, and the hollandaise sauce was spot-on, lemony and likably light.
But the poor English muffin was sopped through and through — it was a soggy mess that didn’t provide a needed contrast in texture.
The lunch combo ($11), a choice of half-sandwich and salad or soup, was also a mixed marriage. The turkey chili was excellent — but that was after we sent the soup back because it was cold. When it returned from the kitchen, the hearty bowl impressed with its black beans and ground turkey one-two punch — spicy and flying in the face of seasonal fare.
But any time is a good time for fried chicken and waffles ($17), which are highlighted in a box on the lunch menu as if to draw your eye and stomach at once. Served atop a terrific jalapeño bacon cheddar waffle, the crispy chicken breast rivals some of the best around town. I could have done without the cream gravy, which effectively hinders one’s ability to want to wear a swimsuit later in the day.
The kids menu had essentially the same dish, but with chicken tenders on top of a regular waffle ($7). Lighter but no less tasty, it was thoroughly dispatched by my son.
Savory food also beckoned across the table. A Chinese chopped salad ($12.50) was serviceable and predictable with its slices of mandarin orange, sesame dressing and crispy wonton garnish.
And the half-sandwich accompanying the turkey chili was a mild and disappointing take on chicken salad with large chunks of under-seasoned, dry meat.
Fittingly, service was a little scattered — the restaurant has been open only a month — but was overall professional and brisk. When our waiter stopped by to see how everything “tasted,” he did not notice the chili was missing from the combo plate — we had already sent it back with another employee — and didn’t apologize when we told him about its cold temp.
Nevertheless, we were soon ushered out into the heat — but not before being magnetically drawn to the bakery case. Attractive cakes, dripping in chocolate sauce, and Rice Krispies Treat pops taunted us to no avail.
Bread Winners, successful for so many years in Dallas and Plano, and recently opened in Trophy Club, is relentless in its quest to satisfy your sweet tooth and your savory side.
It would be a little more winning if it didn’t try so hard.
Bread Winners Cafe
1612 S. University Drive
Hours: Brunch: 7 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday; breakfast and lunch: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.