85ºC Bakery and Cafe may be the “Starbucks of Taiwan” but it will also be forever known as the place “Where Your Diet Ends.” If it were the subject of a book, a likely subtitle would be: “Why Your Pants Don’t Fit.”
This Fort Worth edition, which briefly soft-opened in January in the Left Bank development on West Seventh Street,, closed for a couple of weeks, and then reopened this month,. and has a grand opening scheduled for Friday, has been eagerly awaited Fort Worth-side ever since the first location in the area opened in Carrollton in fall 2016.
Wu Cheng-Hsueh founded the enterprise on the idea that everyone should be able to eat a pastry (or 20), so he created this chain — now with more than 1,000 stores worldwide—that serves fancy, ultra-decadent sweets at affordable prices. And with a name that connotes what Wu believes to be the ideal temperature for brewing coffee — 185 degrees Fahrenheit — beverages also play a key role.
But nobody puts these pastries in a corner (well, there are a few in that general vicinity) with approximately 60 types on hand at any given time. Bakers start the yeast-festivities early each day, about 5:30 a.m., and by around 9, the cases are filled to the brim with enticing rolls, Danishes, custards and savory items that can cause slight fright among less adventurous eaters. Every two hours, a new batch of delights is proofed and produced from the kitchen. So-called fancier desserts, like the 85ºC Mille Crepe, sea-salt coffee brulee and Napoleon cakes, are shipped in every morning from Carrollton.
The vibe: Smaller than the Carrollton store, this space devotes much of the floor plan to the cases of Japanese- and European-style pastries. With its red-and-white motif, the dining area is pleasant, with an emphasis on hygiene.
It all starts when you choose your treats. Customers are urged to use the large tongs available near the door to select their items. A tray tacitly encourages you to load up on the carbs.
The food: How best to choose? The chain is known for a handful of items that have achieved cultlike status. Here are a few that attracted our interest.
85ºC egg tart: It looks a little like a quiche but tastes more like a custard. Thick and sweet, it is the chain’s riff on the beloved Portuguese pasteis de nata. With its creamy tang, this version lacks the traditional crunchy top, but the pastry shell — described by an employee as “like a croissant” — was light and crisp, and a good textural foil ($1.80).
Milk pudding: It’s best to understand this popular item as a Japanese-influenced treat — an airy roll, filled with vanilla custard crème. The two textures clashed for me — but it could be an acquired taste. A sugary glaze covers the mound, to further tempt ($1.65).
Boroh Danish: Perhaps the most unassuming of those we tasted, this light-as-air roll was a welcome accompaniment to the sea-salt iced coffee ($3.50). While the latter had an overwhelming sweetness thanks to its whipped-cream-like topping and added sugar from the coffee, the Danish was pillowy with a slight crust that had a good crumb ($2).
Cheese dog: This savory option is like a kielbasa on steroids. A slightly salty, chewy roll encases a hot dog, and is baked with ketchup, mayo, cheddar and mozzarella cheese. Dried parsley and black pepper season the entire thing, granting it a well-balanced, earthy flavor. Attention to detail reigns here, because even the hot dog has a snap to its casing. And whoever created this recipe has a good sense of humor, because “light” mayo is used ($1.80).
Squid-ink corn chicken: Make no mistake, this roll is black, stained with cuttlefish ink, and nestled within are cubes of chicken and melted cheese. A cream sauce holds the ingredients together, one notch below potpie level in terms of execution if not taste. And about the squid ink? It’s virtually undetectable — unless you are 7 years old and a notoriously picky eater — especially against the salty marriage of corn, chicken and cheese ($2).