Many Austinites are shocked by a question—"What's a kolache?"—that would be reasonable just about anywhere else. That's because these baked goods of Central European origin are a staple in local doughnut shops, bakeries, and dedicated kolache shops. They're a remnant of Czech immigration to Texas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You'll also find various kolache interpretations in the Midwest.
In Austin, the word usually triggers an image of a slightly sweet roll/pastry hybrid filled with sausage (or a hot dog imposter), and jalapeños and orange cheddar cheese. Purists say these meat filled rolls are actually klobasniks—true kolaches are fluffy pastries with sweet fillings including poppy seed, prune, and apricot. Sweet kolaches usually look more like a danish while the savory versions are like long rolls with savory fillings. But even that's not always true. There aren't many strict rules in the nebulous world of kolaches.
My research began in the small town of West, located between Austin and Dallas and notable for its Czech heritage and pillowy-soft kolaches. (I'll have more about West's kolaches to say on a later date!) Then I tried kolaches from more than 15 establishments all over Austin. I learned two important lessons: it's near impossible to find a great kolache in Austin, and the savory varieties are much more widely available than the more authentic sweet versions.
So, stick to specialty bakeries to fulfill your kolache needs in Austin. Get there early because most of the decent places close by 2 p.m. You could end up with a glorified pig in a blanket if you're not careful.
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