Since Oak Cliff Bread opened its doors at Tyler Station in mid-October, I’ve visited every weekend but two. The first was their first weekend, and the second was a holiday that caught me traveling. This is a level of patronage bordering on obsession, but I can’t help it, and other customers have the same habit. In late January, a person behind me in line said, almost breathlessly, “They brought back the raspberry vanilla cruffins! I’ve been checking for them every single week since the first time.”
To join the Oak Cliff Bread cult is to understand the Oak Cliff Bread cult. You’ll swoon at the deep golden crust of the sourdough loaves, and poke your finger at the pointy ends of the baguettes, with their insides full of air bubbles. You’ll marvel at the crumb of an olive loaf, where the interior dough has an extra shine from all the olive oil. You’ll have a few inches of focaccia for breakfast and feel full from its richness—it’s the fluffiest, most flavorful focaccia in Dallas. Slices of fresh jalapeño in a chile cheese sourdough will light up your taste buds with flames. You’ll take home an absolute brick of a Danish rye loaf, full of sprouted rye for texture, and top a thin slice of it with smoked salmon every morning for breakfast.
And then there are pastries. With their looping, arcing planes of dough, the cinnamon and cardamom buns look like bows on Christmas presents. They’re delicately flavored rather than rich, and they’re also fully cooked all the way through. (I once heard a visitor telling Oak Cliff Bread’s staff, “If you want gooey underbaked cinnamon rolls, you can go somewhere else.”)
The croissants and pains au chocolat are marvels of flakey, buttery pastry. The danishes boast real fruit—usually the original fruit, not a jam, puree, or sauce. Ham and cheese croissants are made with capicola that’s slow-roasted in-house.
If you order as much as I do, Oak Cliff Bread offers big bags with handles. I almost always turn them down. It’s more fun to leave with your arms full of paper bags, like Tom Wilkinson’s character in Michael Clayton. (Icon!)
Part of my prejudice in favor of Oak Cliff Bread is, I’ll admit, because it’s so close to my house. I can drop in at 8:30 a.m. and drive home with still-warm loaves of bread. The croissants don’t have time to soften; the cookies don’t have time to get stale. Maybe if I lived five minutes from La Casita Bakeshop, I’d feel this way about them instead.
The husband and wife who own the bakery are Tyler and Chayanne Rooney. They met at the Austin restaurant Parkside when Chayanne accidentally stole one of Tyler’s knives. Tyler was rotating through the kitchen’s stations when he found his place with bread and pastry.
“I fell in love with making things by hand,” he says. It was as simple as that. He liked the feeling of shaping dough with his hands, seeing the immediate effect of his work. He started with gnocchi, then pasta, then found a way to join the bread shift workers for a morning. Within a few months, Rooney had a “side obsession” with bread, and eventually started telling head chef Shawn Cirkiel that it was time to open a bakery. That didn’t happen, but Cirkiel did help pay for Rooney to attend a weeklong sourdough course at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
When the Rooneys moved to Dallas to be near his parents—they have two young children—Tyler joined the kitchen at Macellaio, working for David Uygur.
“I had him doing pretty much everything,” Uygur recalls. “He had already done the bread institute thing, but I didn’t hire him as a baker.” (Rooney says he got to bake once a week.)
The pandemic brought about Macellaio’s closure, and Rooney, furloughed from the restaurant, turned to cottage baking from the family home. “I saw the cottage bakery model take off, like on Instagram,” he recounts. “Got a little oven, the farmer’s market reached out to us when we were still baking in cast iron skillets before the oven had come. It was a super gradual process from me driving around in my Prius dropping loaves off, to the oven coming in so I could bake 12 at a time.”
In some ways, the pandemic was a stroke of good fortune. Rooney had always wanted to tackle croissants, for example, but it’s hard to improve your baking game as an every-so-often hobby. In 2020, he suddenly had infinite time to improve. “It was the first time when I could buckle down and focus. Once you start doing more bread, and a croissant book a week, that’s where all the progress comes from. I went from just horrible-looking croissants—looking back on my Instagram feed, it’s nice to see them getting better and better each week. That’s one of the great things about bread, is you’re still chasing that perfect goal.”
The bakery made its biggest move in October, upgrading to a physical retail space at Tyler Station. That’s when my countdown clock of visits began. I missed out on the whole bake-from-home run, which is something I’ll remember when they invent time machines. Oak Cliff Bread is open three days a week, Thursday through Saturday, but the Rooneys are working three days more. Sunday is their only true day off. (“Family, that’s it,” Tyler says.) Before the week’s retail frenzy begins, doughs need to be mixed, shaped and proofed, ingredients need ordering, and new ideas need testing. On baking days, Tyler wakes up at 1 a.m. and gets started at 1:30, then takes a hard nap in the afternoon.
When we spoke last week, the Rooneys were finally talking about hiring their first employee. Eventually, they may have a second baker alongside Tyler and a shopkeeper to help Chayanne, who runs the counter and happily dispenses suggestions for how to use the week’s specialty breads.
“I’m blown away by the whole thing, because it’s just us two, still,” Tyler told me just before hiring time came around. “It didn’t feel real for so long. I was just baking out of my house. I still don’t even feel like a real business.”
But if Oak Cliff Bread is not taking itself too seriously, it is serious about its recipes and ingredients. The Rooneys have a long history with Barton Springs Mill, a Texas company that sources local grains and specializes in rare heritage types. The product is local to our state—and is of exceptional quality. “That’s one of the top priorities,” Tyler says. “I’ve had a relationship with that company since they started. What they do is amazing and I think people don’t really understand that they are keeping ancient grains arrive.”
If you don’t trust me to be objective about the results, ask Tyler’s old boss.
“He makes really good stuff,” David Uygur says. “He made Stollen [a German Christmas loaf] for the first time this past year. That’s something I’d had in the past, but I thought, ‘Maybe they’re supposed to be really dry and bland.’ No, they’re not! They can be really moist and flavorful. He made some and asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘You got any more of those?’”
As a new regular, I’ve been watching the lines get slightly longer each weekend, and the batches of croissants get slightly bigger to match. The Rooneys know they’re about to get big, but they’re unwilling to compromise on it.
“We’re at a tipping point,” Tyler says. “I never intended to stay tiny and cute forever, but I wouldn’t want to open another spot. We say no to wholesale, we don’t supply any coffee shops, we don’t supply any restaurants. I always want to keep it where we sell the bread ourselves, directly to the person, and you come to the place where we make it.”
1300 S. Polk St., Ste. 230