Spring Road Trip: The Kolache Trail

Eat well! Adventure often!

Warm weather has arrived and so has the urge for adventure. This spring road takes you on two different routes to find the delicious Czech pastry.

For those who don’t know, a kolache or kolace is a square pastry with fruit or cream cheese filling that’s popular in Czech culture. The dough of a kolache is dense and sweet. This differs from a Danish which is lighter and flakier. 

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kolache Trail

Trip Mileage: About 250

Overall Vibe: Filling

Kolache, the Czech-inspired breakfast sweet is most everywhere in Texas. If a shop sells doughnuts odds are kolaches are also available filled with fruit, jellies, jams, cream cheese, and, in the case of the klobasnek, small sausages (aka pigs in a blanket).

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive any main route inside the Texas urban triangle of Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin-San Antonio and you’ll find kolaches. Hope you’re hungry because this 200-plus-mile meander takes you away from the cities and the interstates to two dozen spots where the baked delicacy—along with the greeting Jak se mas!—rules.

You might as well start in West, located on Interstate 35 about 20 miles north of Waco—and you might just as well end there, too. This community of 2,860 has six bakeries that specialize in kolaches. The frontage-road establishments of Czech Stop/Little Czech and Kolache House Baking Company (northbound, located in the CEFCO convenience store) and Slovacek’s (southbound) get the highway traffic. Or drive a couple blocks east to Oak Street where the Oak Street Bakery, Gerik’s Ole’ Czech, and West Donuts and Kolaches are clustered.

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you’ve had your fill of kolaches in West, head about 13 miles south and then east on Heritage Parkway/Farm to Market Road 2311 through Leroy to State Highway 31 West. Then go 12 miles to the State Highway 340 loop around Waco picking up US 77 South for 27 miles to Lott. In town, turn onto State Highway 320 South to Miller’s Country Smokehouse, a destination deli and bakery that also happens to serve kolaches.

>> Related article: Along the Kolache Trail

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue south on SH 320, then west on State Highway 53 for a half mile to the tiny town of Zabcikville named for the family of Czech immigrants that settled there. Here is where you’ll find Green’s Sausage House, a café, meat counter, and bakery established in 1946. Eight fruit varieties are offered daily along with eight different kinds of meat kolaches including the exotic knockwurst with jalapeños and cheese and boudin with jalapeño cheese.

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head back east and south on Farm to Market Road 485 for 14 miles crossing US 77 and pick up Farm to Market Road 979 for 16 miles to Calvert and Pappy’s Bakery, a full-service bakery with six varieties of fruit kolaches and regular or jalapeño sausage klobasnek. Then, it’s about 30 miles south on State Highway 6 to one of three Kolache Rolf’s locations in College Station, the house specialties being an array of traditional kolaches along with four varieties of savory kolaches including bacon and cheese.

Leaving Aggieland, take State Highway 47 north to State Highway 21 West, a 27-mile jog to Caldwell—home of the Caldwell Kolache Festival held on the second Saturday in September. Tucked next to a convenience store is Nonnie’s Bakery where the handmade kolaches (including coconut) sell out early.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Caldwell, continue south on SH 21 for 10 miles then turn right and go west on Farm to Market Road 696 for 14 miles to Lexington. Cheese pigs are the top item on the breakfast menu at Herk’s Store and Grill. From here, it’s 37 miles south on US 77 to Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange (a second bakery is located in Brenham). This spot features at least 20 flavors of kolache and five kinds of what they call klobasniky—their term for pig-in-a-blanket. Another popular place for pigs is Lukas Bakery in downtown La Grange across from the courthouse.

>> Related article: Czech Please: We Gotcha Kolache!

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From La Grange, you have two options for a last stop on your kolache odyssey. Twelve miles east of LaGrange on SH 71 is Hruska’s Bakery in the small community of Ellinger. This is arguably the most popular kolache stop between Austin and Houston with the usual lineup of pigs, fruit kolaches, seven cream cheese varieties, and even cottage cheese kolache. Or go to downtown Schulenburg, 16 miles south of La Grange on US 77 for the home of the Besetsny family’s original Kountry Bakery (other locations can be found in Weimar, Victoria, Hallettsville, and Eagle Lake). Choose from 16 varieties of kolaches sold individually and by the box.

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East-West Alternate Kolache Trail

Trip Mileage: 168

You can’t name drop kolaches in Texas without involving the Houston area and US 90. For an alternative kolache route begin in the settlement of Danbury, a few miles northeast of Angleton, at the Two Czech Chicks Bakery. The owners, Jennifer Martin and Dawn Sykora, grew up in West but many of the recipes were passed down by the Czech grandmother of Sykora’s husband.

>> Related article: Best Getaway to Czech Out

From Angleton, take State Highway 288 South about 10 miles to Clute, where the Kolache Shop features a flavor of the month such as Italian Cream and Chocolate-Covered Cherry. Pick up State Highway 36 and head northwest for an hour to downtown Rosenberg, home of the Old Main Street Bakery. From Rosenburg, take US 90A and head west for 16 miles. Next stop is Vincek’s Smokehouse in East Bernard, a community that hosts the Kolache and Klobase Festival in June.

Kolaches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you continue on 18 miles west on Alt 90 to Eagle Lake, you can stop at one of the Besetsny family’s Kountry Bakery locations. Then it’s 38 miles to Hallettsville where the annual Hallettsville Kolache Festival in late September is the town’s big civic bash. Hallettsville has another Besetsny family Kountry Bakery. At this point, if you haven’t fallen into a kolache food coma, head to Shiner, another 15 miles west on US 90A, where Bea’s Place convenience store preps serious pigs in a blanket.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I didn’t drive eleven hours across the state of Texas to watch my cholesterol.

―Robb Walsh

Along the Kolache Trail

How did a traditional Czech pastry became a Texas bakery staple?

You know what they say: If life is a highway as sung by Tom Cochrane in Mad, Mad World (1991) and Rascal Flatts in Cars, a computer-animated sports comedy film (2006), I wanna pull over, get a Texas-size kolache (fruit or cream cheese-filled Czech pastry) and pick up the road trip later.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolache are round sweet-bread pastries with prune or poppy seed filling. They are considered to be Czech but deliciousness knows no borders and the neighboring cultures picked them up—including the Slovaks whose similar language uses the same word. While in Czech a kolach (KOH-lahch) is singular and kolache (ko-LAH-chee) is plural, the latter is sometimes used in the U. S. as singular. So you may sometimes hear kolaches (ko-LAH-chees) for the plural of the word.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Say it as you will, but I had never heard any form of the term until I spent my first winter in Central Texas where I found not just kolache for sale in bakeries but kolache franchises such as Kolache Factory. But what made Texas so kolache-friendly?

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, an abundance of land to settle and a list of grievances against the old-world homeland compelled waves of Czech immigrants to sail halfway around the world to Texas. Those grievances included various political frustrations ranging from feudalism and nationalism within the ruling Austrian Empire to religious persecution, conscripted military service, and a lack of freedom of the press.

Related: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to-late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out through the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Related: The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds of a feather flock together and today you can find many Texas communities with Czech roots. A region known as the Texas Czech Belt is a line of towns and counties that starts less than an hour south of Dallas and runs about 180 miles straight down the map to the town of Yoakum, Texas, just south of I-10 between Houston and San Antonio.

Cultural centers and museums are abundant as are Czech festivals as those places proudly celebrate their roots. But if there’s anything that tends to last long after the generations have passed, it is food. And the Czech kolach is the star of the show.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The kolach, as with a croissant or Danish pastry, is made using yeast, resulting in a more bread-like character rather than cakes, cookies, or pie crusts. The pastry is circular and measures about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The filling is laid into an open depression in the middle though I’ve also seen them with the pastry corners folded up together over the top to allow the filling to peek out of little openings after baking.

On the Painted Churches tour near Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditionally, in the Old World, fillings were limited to local ingredients: poppy seed, prune, apricot, cherries, and farmer’s cheese. But new lands bring new traditions, often driven by experimentation and whatever’s available.

Related: Historical Painted Churches of Central Texas

In Texas, you get all sorts of fillings: apricots, peaches, blueberries, pineapple, cherries, apples, pecans, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and chocolate coconut cream, to name a few.

Several bakeries in Fayette County feature a sausage wrapped in kolach fashion. This, to be honest, is not a kolach but a klobasnek (plural klobasniky), a delicious creation originating in the Czech immigrant population in Texas. To many Americans, a sausage in a pastry is a “pig in a blanket.” The true kolach is sweet, never meat-filled or savory.

So where can you find the best or the truest kolaches? Those are opinions folks fight you over with a passion. A good place to start is with festivals dedicated to the pastry.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Kolache Fest, one of the largest such festivals, takes place in late September in Hallettsville. More than 3,000 people attend and gobble up the thousands of kolache produced by the local Kountry Bakery which uses the recipes passed down by three generations of the Czech American Besetsny family. The festival includes polka music, a car show, a parade, arts and crafts, a BBQ cook-off (it’s still Texas), loads of other food, a kolache-eating contest, and a 5K run to burn off some of those calories. Central to the festival is a bake-off, the winner of which is crowned the Kolache Queen. It’s a huge deal for a sizeable Czech community.

Related: Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1989, the Texas state Legislature declared the town of Caldwell the “Kolache Capital of Texas.” The city of West received similar honors as the “Home of the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature” in 1997. Both of those places also have festivals that honor kolache. Draw a line through all three on the map and you’ve got the Czech Belt.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always the second Saturday of September, the Burleson County Kolache Festival, held in Caldwell, celebrated its 36th year in 2021. Septuagenarian Joe Rycalik, a local Czech speaker, opened the festival in the Czech language. Another proud local, 40-year-old Zach Zgabay who traces his roots all the way back to what’s now Czechia or the Czech Republic felt that language played an important part in the preservation of culture so he returned to college to learn Czech. If Rycalik retires, Zgabay may one day open the festival in a similar fashion.

Cookies at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several local bakeries collaborated to bake roughly 12,000 kolache. They went on sale at 8 a.m. and sold out by 2 p.m. The festival also includes a baking competition in 12 classes including apple, apricot, cheese, cheese, and other combination, peach, poppy seed, prune, and other fruit. There’s also an activity I might be more inclined to participate in Kolache Eating. But if you’re not in Texas, you may have to bake your own.

Related: Totally Texas

Just north of Waco, the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande. Here you find cinnamon rolls, strudel, cream cheese pound cake, pecan sandies, and cookies of all kinds, plus a repertoire of a dozen kolaches. The kolache is Weikel’s specialty, the shop’s motto (on the highway billboard): We got’cha Kolache.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bakery has become a traditional stopping point for many travelers on Highway 71 between Austin and Houston. Some say this Czech bakery’s kolaches are the best in the state. Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in La Grande, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can start your day in Schulenburg by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chili are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery is all the sweets to pick up for dessert.

Friday’s Fried Chicken in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best-fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half-mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… 

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Everything a foodie should know about the Lone Star State

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any Texas road trip. Since the Lone Star State is populated by predominantly devout carnivores laying claim to about 268,820 square miles of land, there are countless restaurants to discover (or re-discover). So we rounded up a list of the best small-town places to visit when you’re making your way around the Lone Star State.

The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? Texas is just full of so many amazing places to eat and it seems impossible to try all of them in a lifetime—so we’re done the next best thing and tried a few of the very best, most iconic restaurants in Central Texas.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart 

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign—it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop or shoulder clod if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery, La Grande

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic from-scratch Czech pastries like Kolaches and Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) and many other baked goods. The bakery has become a traditional stopping point for many travelers on Highway 71 between Austin and Houston. Some say this Czech bakery’s kolaches are the best in the state.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart

Smoked Texas barbecue puts smiles on faces. Black’s is one of the most iconic barbecue joints in Texas. From brisket so tender it practically melts in your mouth to fall-off-the-bone ribs smoked in the most flavorful marinade you’ll ever taste, I guarantee you’ll be leaving the table more than a little full.

Kloesel’s Steakhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steakhouse, Moulton

It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s. After some hesitation we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and give it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value with great atmosphere and friendly service. We have eaten here over the years numerous times and have always been impressed with their food. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreuz Market, Lockhart 

Kreuz Market (pronounced ‘Krites’) might be the most unique dining experience you’ve ever had. The beef, sausage, or pork is served on brown butcher paper. No side dishes here. But you can enjoy a slice of cheddar cheese, chunk of onion, tomatoes, avocado and your favorite beverage. Don’t ask for barbecue sauce. They don’t have it and quite honestly are offended if anyone asks. The owners say, ‘good barbecue doesn’t need sauce.’

City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City Market, Luling

There are few places we love as much as the pit room at City Market. Entering the smoke-filled, glass-enclosed chamber at the back of the dining room is an experience you will remember for decades—a trip into an iconic, sacred space in the world of barbecue.

The City Market serves brisket, ribs, and sausage rings on butcher paper. They’re great as-is but house-made sauce is significant. The brisket is terrific as are pork ribs, but City Market’s great dish is a sausage ring. A swinging door leads into a back-room pit where pit men assemble meats on pink butcher paper. They take your money then gather the edges of the paper together so it becomes a boat-like container you easily can carry back into the pine-paneled dining room.

Truth BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truth BBQ, Brenham

Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin. The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration, and a fine black-pepper crust. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Original Kountry Bakery, Schulenburg

In 1979, Evelyn Besetsny and her husband Clarence started a bakery in a little house along Highway 77. Evelyn’s recipes came down from the Czech lands through her mother, Caroline Valicek. Those basic recipes for kolaches, strudel, and pigs haven’t changed, either. Clarence and Evelyn retired in 2007 but their daughter Lynn Heller carries on the tradition today. Heller has added a few items over the years like sauerkraut pig-in-the-blankets, jalapeno pigs, bacon and cheese rolls, and boudin pigs. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck