The Staff of Life
Bolillos, El Fénix
Honestly, I am not much of a bread person. In fact, I rarely serve bread with meals, and I hardly ever eat it, unless it's in sandwich form or as the vehicle for something tasty like pâté or homemade marmalade. But I am, after all, a Mexican, and we Mexicans love our bolillos. A basketful is always present at the Mexican table and usually greets diners upon arrival at restaurants throughout the country, much like Texas' ubiquitous chips and salsa. These days, a number of bakeries in Austin make them, but I found that none is able to reproduce the exact consistency, crust, and texture of a real Mexican bolillo. That is, until I discovered El Fénix Bakery at 6616 S. Congress.
Manuel Flores – originally from the state of Coahuila – and his wife, Beverly, run this tiny operation on South Congress, near the corner of William Cannon. They make the most authentic and delicious Mexican pastries in town, and their bolillos and teleras are the real deal. They have a light, crunchy crust and a moist interior that's not crumbly but soft and fluffy and comes out in one piece when pulled off. This leaves a nice cavity in which to stuff all manners of fillings, and since the bolillos are just the right size, one can make a proper torta in no time. If for some reason they are not consumed while fresh, they can be dried to make bread crumbs of an excellent consistency. Thanks to El Fénix, I will no longer be homesick for a real bolillo. – C.A.