Saturday, August 27, 2011

Travel Bite: Kolaches, West, Texas

Right off the I-35 highway in the tiny town of West is the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery. It's an oddly conjoined mini mart/deli and bakery and gas station that Texans have come to anticipate on that long stretch of asphalt between Dallas and Austin. You can fill up your beer belly on the left, your kolache gut on the right, and your gas guzzler out front.

Claiming to be the "Kolache capital of Texas," West is not far from Waco and George W. Bush country, namely, Crawford. You know, the ranch where "W" was busy clearing brush during a national crisis. If there was upheaval somewhere in the world, chances are he could be found in these parts with kolache crumbs on his face. But since those orange-level terror-alert days are gone, he was a no-show.

This was the only orange alert I could buy into. So in the name of national security, I grabbed a roll of duct tape and assumed the apricot kolache position with mouth wide open (The tape was to shut my pie hole so I wouldn't eat more than one). The kolaches come with various fruit fillings, and they cry to be eaten fresh. If you don't kill 'em off on the first day, the terrorists win.

This yeast pastry originated as a wedding dessert in Czechoslovakia. In the 1860s, Czech immigrants came to West and the surrounding areas to buy farm land and start a fresh life in the new world. The cream cheese ones taste similar to cheese Danish, while the poppyseed and prune fillings are reminiscent of the Jewish pastry, hamentashen, also from Eastern Europe.

The closed kolache was supposedly created in Czechoslovakia because the fruit in the open-faced buns would get all over the working men's lunch buckets, hence their wives folded over the pastry. But that could be an old wives' tale.

The klobasnek, klobasniky or klobasnik (your choice) has the same dough as the kolache, but they're filled with sausage. Klobasnik were traditionally just sausage, but now a combination of ingredients like cheese and peppers are common. Apparently purists cringe when a klobasnik is referred to as a kolache. I cringe at greasy sausage. Maybe I'll turn that into a bumper sticker.

A lot of German and Polish immigrants also settled in the area, including the German founder of the famous fruitcake company, Collin Street Bakery in nearby Corsicana that I visited. The Europeans not only brought their recipes to Texas, they brought the waltz and polka, too. Through the years, the oompah band and accordion were combined with the Mexican corrido and mariachi to form the music that’s heard in Central and South Texas called Tejano. (Notice the musicians on the wall in the pic above, and hear the master Tejano accordionist Flaco Jimenez.) There's an annual Czech Polka festival in West called Westfest held every Labor Day weekend that attracts 20,000 people and includes a kolache baking contest.

West may be the “Kolache capital of Texas,” but Montgomery, Minnesota claims to be the "Kolacky capital of the world," and Prague, Nebraska says it's the “Home of the world's largest kolache.” While those other towns might proclaim themselves the reigning kolache king, I have some advice for them: When it comes to kolaches, don't mess with Texas. And that's one warning you can believe.

Don't let the terrorists win.


  1. I love the wackiness of the USA that lands a Czech bakery off a Texas highway.

  2. I didn't know there were other immigrant populations in Texas, besides those from south of the border. Thanks for this fun post and the photos of the pastries. When I drove across Texas all I saw was flat scrubland, a railroad track that ran to the horizon and a bazillion stars in the night sky.

  3. I am with Lora - this gives me one more reason to head to Austin after visiting my oldest in Dallas!!

  4. It's interesting that cream cheese is only 9 cents more. (Fortunately GWB is clearing brush full-time these days) GREG

  5. i like your orange alert comment and you def. need to be in the bumper sticker business. but above all you are in super trouble with me for being in/near Dallas and not telling me. ps - i love that Greg is paying such close attention to the prices. :P

  6. Amee: I had these photos from when I was there last November. Don't worry! Next time I go to Big D, I will be calling you! (and I noticed the 9 cent difference too : )

  7. I lived in Austin for several years and managed to miss this kolache haven. Altough I distinctly remember having some divine kolaches some time when I lived - I think at some German festival.

    And, yes, Mexican music, especially Norteno music and later Tejano music, were heavily influenced by the German polka. If you haven't danced and been twirled to a ranchera - you're missing out.

  8. I second Amee and feel slightly slighted that I was not informed of your visit to y'all mighty Texas plains; loved every clever word in that post, especially since I have patronized this joint on several occasions on my road trips to Austin and back in the late eighties; not surprised to see it looks the same!
    Yeah, there are all kinds of immigrants that settled in Texas, the one state with plenty of room for everybody!

  9. Joumana: this was the trip when I visited you, so don't feel slighted. Have not been back since November!

  10. If I lived near there, I would be all over the day-old shelf. That would be my downfall.