April 24, 2024

The Mena family is back.

But instead of serving fettuccine Alfredo or tiramisu, this time Afrim and Sal Mena are serving chicken-fried steak and coconut cream pie.

Twenty years after their family launched a legacy at Italian restaurants in Hurst and Keller, the Menas sold two Oklahoma restaurants and moved back to open Boulevard Cafe, a breakfast-lunch restaurant at 5121 Davis Blvd.

At the Magnolia Cafe in Durant, Oklahoma, they sold up to 1,000 chicken-fried steaks a week, so many that their provider hired a butcher to do nothing but cut steaks.

Berry pancakes at Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills April 29, 2023.
Berry pancakes at Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills April 29, 2023. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

“We’d always been eyeing this location [on Davis] — we knew it was a good place for a cafe,” said Afrim Mena, from the family that owned Cafe Panache in Hurst and Mezza Luna in Keller. He’s a nephew of well-traveled local chef Sage Sakiri.

Once, Mezza Luna was celebrated as the first white-tablecloth in Keller. Now, the same family dishes up omelets and waffles.

Celebrating its one-year anniversary, Boulevard Cafe is now known for its buttermilk-dipped chicken-fried steak and chicken and also for its pancakes and waffles.

Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills Jan. 24, 2024.
Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills Jan. 24, 2024. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

“We get the whole community here — the mayor, police, firemen, veterans, ladies for lunch, people from the car dealerships,” Sal Mena said.

The Menas’ Italian restaurants were good.

“But this is easier on us — the hours are better,” Sal Mena said.

You’ve probably noticed all the other new local “brunch spot” cafes with New York or Chicago diner heritage. Many serve pancakes and omelets, but not southern favorites.

“We found out” in Oklahoma restaurants, Sal Mena said, that “we had to have pie.”

Coconut cream pie at Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills Jan. 21, 2024.
Coconut cream pie at Boulevard Cafe in North Richland Hills Jan. 21, 2024. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

They were selling desserts like cheesecake or tiramisu. An older, funny and “kind of ornery” cook nicknamed “Big Mama” taught them how to make coconut cream pie, he said.

Now, it’s the No. 1 dessert, along with chocolate and banana cream pie and an above-average apple.

“Pie is one of those great American traditions,” he said. “You’d be amazed how much people want pie. Everybody here wants coconut cream.”

The lunch menu offers burgers, sandwiches (the Reuben’s corned beef is made in house) and a wide variety of salads. It’s a comfy place to linger over chicken or tuna salad and the Harney & Sons hot tea.

Breakfast plates also include huevos rancheros, migas or chilaquiles in salsa verde.

If you’re wondering how an immigrant family adapted to a Texas diner, it’s easy, Sal Mena said.

The same North Macedonian and Albanian immigrant families who dominate the pizza-and-pasta business also know breakfast.

“The Greek families opened all these great diners, right?” he said, referring to a nationwide tradition that includes Texans like Houston’s Pappas family, Faithon Lucas of Lucas B&B in Dallas and the late Mike Smith of the Paris Coffee Shop in Fort Worth.

“Well, North Macedonia is right there on the [Balkan] peninsula. Our families came through Chicago and started out working for Greeks.”

They want to open more Boulevard Cafes and also a contemporary Italian restaurant, he said..

Boulevard Cafe is open daily for lunch and dinner. It’s 1 mile north of Loop 820; 817-849-2231, instagram.com/_boulevard_cafe.

This story was originally published January 25, 2024, 5:30 AM.

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Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth Star-Telegram “Eats Beat” dining columnist and restaurant podcast co-host. In print since 1985 and online since 1992, he has written more than 3,000 columns about Texas cafes, barbecue, burgers and where to eat.
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