A Guide to Kolaches in Austin
And some of your sweet and savory pastry options in and around town
The Central Texas foodways are a mashup of many excellent cuisines and dishes that have evolved into staples. German immigrants brought the corn dog to Texas; Mexican immigrants brought over the gordita, and our El Salvadoran and Honduran friends introduced the pupusa. Czechoslovakian émigrés brought kolaches, which evolved into the klobasnek, and it's worth exploring this somewhat misunderstood finger food and its evolution.
Czech immigration has been pervasive in its influence on Texas. If you grew up here, you've at least been offered a kolache, and the handheld filled yeast dough might even be a regular dietary fixture. Czech Moravian (a western region of the former Czechoslovakia) settlements began around the 1820s in Central Texas, but the bulk of Czech immigration really began to ramp up three decades later. Texas had tons of land then, and a more fluid economic system, allowing poor and working-class Eastern European immigrants to elevate their quality of life. Polka, kolache, klobasnek, klobasa, and sauerkraut are some of the other more long-standing, recognizable cultural contributions our Czech émigrés have assimilated into what we now consider to be just a Texas thing.
It is safe to say that if you are a Texas native, especially one with Central and Southeast Texas origins, you have a fond memory of and affinity for the klobasnek, but you were probably calling it a kolache. And it's worth noting that the klobasnek nomenclature began around 70 years ago, but has been given short shrift since its alleged inception.
A klobasnek has the same soft kolache dough outside, but instead of a filling made of semi-sweet fruit jam, cheese, or stewed fruit, it is something decidedly savory and typically of the pork variety. More often than not, the gooey, harmonious filling is married with yellow American cheese. Remember your uncle passing one from the front seat on an early morning hunting trip? Maybe your mother doled some out as the family road-tripped the I-35 corridor between San Antonio and Dallas. Or maybe you were just introduced to the klobasnek at one of the many Austin eateries that have embraced the Tex-Czech evolution of the kolache.
In Austin alone, there are over 50 kolache shops, donut shops, bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, and convenience stores that serve some iteration of both varieties (including over a dozen shops with "kolache" in the business name). Perhaps not as popular as tacos, pizza, and burgers, but for a regional specialty, you could certainly say they're ubiquitous.
The klobasnek's genesis allegedly begins at the now defunct Village Bakery in the town of West, Texas, but of course, origin stories of any beloved food are tricky. Depending on who you speak with around West, Slovacek's (located just across the highway from the old Village Bakery) is carrying the kolache/klobasnek torch now. According to Charlie Green, proprietor and part-owner of Green's Sausage House in Zabcikville, Texas (just east of Taylor, about an hour from Austin), they've been making klobasneks and kolaches since the early Sixties.
"The sausage and cheese is probably the most popular. We do a lot of sausage and cheese and then we do a lot of jalapeño and cheese," says Green. On a busy Saturday, Green's is pumping out over 100 dozen or more klobasneks and kolaches alone. The very genesis of Green's owes itself in part to the kolache and klobasnek. "That's just kind of how we got started years ago, back in the early Sixties. You know it was very small back then, of course everything was a lot smaller back then, now it's pretty crazy."
Dawn Orsak, kolache guru and event planner and programmer for the Texas State Historical Association, claims in a 2017 Saveur article that she had a relative who would wrap sausages in dough to hand out to workers on her farm many moons ago. Orsak, in the same article, also acknowledges the popular belief that the klobasnek originated at the Village Bakery.
The klobasnek and kolache have been reintroduced by the regional unearthing of traditional foodways by younger chefs and progressive eateries. Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches (3220 Manor Rd.) has gone all in, offering both kolaches and klobasneks filled with local ingredients when possible and using smoked meats from local favorite Micklethwait Craft Meats (1309 Rosewood). Little Brother Coffee & Kolaches (1512 S. Congress) is also heavy in the game – that's the only food you can find at the SoCo establishment – and their versions are handmade at Holdout Brewing Co. by the deft hands of Executive Pastry Chef Lindsay O'Rourke and her team.
Pastry chef Augusta Passow, a Montana import, now holds the reins at one of Austin's most Central Texas-ingredient-centric and innovative restaurants, Barley Swine. She worked at Uchi, Uchiko, and Old Thousand before settling into her role at the lauded Burnet restaurant. "To me a kolache is all about the dough," she explains. "It's so specific in my opinion. Soft and fluffy, but able to hold up to whatever filling you choose. There's also something so Texas about a kolache, I would even be so bold [as] to say more than barbecue," she writes. While some may take issue with that statement, she's correct: You won't find klobasneks and kolaches in Oakland, Memphis, or Charlotte, but you can definitely find some barbecue.
In early March, Passow and the Barley Swine team held a kolache bake sale benefiting the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association in response to the winter storm devastation. "I'm really blown away by the support we had. I think the bake sale sold out in about an hour and we were able to raise over $1,700," Passow writes. It's a testament not only to the deliciousness of their specific version of the pastry, but its popularity in general.
There is an allure to the kolache/klobasnek situation, and even to those elbow deep in their creation, some mystery remains. "The first time I made kolaches at home I did some research and learned the difference [between a kolache and klobasnek]. However, I'm still stumped as to if all savory buns are defined as klobasniky or if it's specifically the enclosed style with sausage or the enclosed style in general," Passow says.
Barley Swine "started making kolaches because of COVID and our need to pivot to a takeout menu. We've been doing takeout for a year and honestly, the kolaches have been the most successful item we've offered on our menu," she says. "I really think that speaks to the comfort that a kolache holds for a lot of people."
Look for some exciting kolache-/klobasnek-related things in the pipeline at the Barley Swine, Odd Duck, and Sour Duck trio. "We actually started the conversation about making sausage in house for a klobasnek, I would really like to see that come to fruition. I'm also excited for berry season, to work on some fun flavors along with some classic combinations," writes Passow.
So, a kolache becomes a klobasnek becomes a "kolache." Unless you're a philologist, you probably could care less about the correct way a thing is named, but we can all agree that klobasneks are transcendent finger foods that have withstood the test of time during their Tex-olution.
Batch Craft Beer & Kolaches
3220 Manor Rd., 512/401-3025; www.batchatx.com
Little Brother Coffee & Kolaches
1512 S. Congress Ave; www.littlebrotherbar.com/s-congress
Better Half Coffee & Cocktails
406 Walsh St., 512/645-0786; www.betterhalfbar.com
Holdout Brewing Company
1208 W. Fourth, 512/305-3540; www.holdoutbrewing.com
6555 Burnet Rd. #400, 512/394-8150; www.barleyswine.com
1201 S. Lamar, 512/433-6521; www.oddduckaustin.com
Sour Duck Market
1814 E. Martin Luther King Jr., 512/394-5776; www.sourduckmarket.com
Lone Star Kolaches
Six locations in Austin; www.lonestarkolaches.com
2207 E Cesar Chavez, 512/412-5588; www.kerlinbbq.com
5313 Manor Rd., 512/926-6094; 4410 E. Riverside #108, 512/433-6104
Mrs. Johnson's Bakery
4909 Airport Blvd., 512/452-4750; www.mjbakery.com
Round Rock Donuts
106 W. Liberty Ave., Round Rock, 512/255-3629; www.roundrockdonuts.com
3706 N. Lamar, 512/467-2253; www.kolachefactory.com
2300 S. Lamar #102, 512/462-1302; www.moonlightbakery.com
Austin Kolache & Koffee
7113 Burnet Rd. #112, 512/551-3115; www.austinkolache.com
11005 Burnet Rd., 512/837-9221; www.donut7austin.com
Over a dozen locations in the greater Austin area; www.shipleydonuts.com
615 W. Slaughter #112, 512/292-8558
KC Donut Store
8106 Brodie, 512/282-1977
2406 W. Parmer, 512/873-7195; www.nstardonuts.com
Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli
8900 Hwy. 290 E., Chappell Hill, 979/836-0910; www.chappellhillbakeryanddeli.com
Hruska's Store & Bakery
109 Hwy. 71 W., Ellinger, 979/378-2333; www.hruskas-bakery.com
Green's Sausage House
16483 SH 53, Temple, 254/985-233; www.greenssausagehouse.com
214 Melodie Dr., West, 254/826-4525; www.slovacekwesttexas.com
2247 Hwy. 71 W., La Grange, 979/968-9413; www.weikels.com
Original Kountry Bakery
110 Kessler Ave., Schulenberg, 979/743-4342; www.theoriginalkountrybakery.com
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