Food Fight

Food Fight: Battle Kolache

Although primarily Czech in origin, the kolache is as fully Texan a food as chicken-fried steak or mayhaw jelly. First created by Czech and Slovakian settlers in central Texas in the mid-1800s, the original kolache was simply a pastry with fruit fillings like blueberries or apricots. These days, the definition of a kolache has expanded to include what was once called a klobasnek, or a sausage-filled pastry. And both kinds of kolache have taken a firm foothold in Texas cuisine.

Nearly every small town with any Czech influence at all claims to have the best kolaches in the state, from West to Weimer. The warm pastries (whether sausage or fruit-filled) grace the breakfast tables and breakrooms of homes and offices the state over, and we all have our own personal favorite kolache shops.

This week's Food Fight pits sausage-and-cheese kolaches from two very different contenders: Shipley's Donuts, the corporate giant of the kolache and donut world, and Olde Towne Kolaches, a small, three-location outfit popular on the west side of town. The results might surprise you.

Olde Towne Kolaches

We chose the location off Memorial Drive in an old Taco Bell building for our kolache run. Small yet pleasant inside, with overstuffed chairs and a coffee shop ambience, it doesn't even resemble a fast-food Mexican restaurant anymore except for the Norteño music lilting out of the open kitchen. But nevermind the music; the fresh, yeasty smell of the dough all but deafens your other senses as you walk inside.

A dozen sausage-and-cheese kolaches ran us $19, a wee bit pricier than Shipley's. But as the aroma from the piping hot box filled the car, it didn't seem to matter. Back at the office, the kolaches were praised by various staffers as being soft and highly cheesy. The light-colored dough is made fresh every morning at each location, and it shows in the pillowy texture of the soft bun that envelopes the sausage inside.

The only issue with the Olde Towne Kolaches comes from -- surprisingly -- their delicious dough, which tends to overpower the other ingredients with its sweetness. The Eckrich sausage is too mild to stand up to it, as is the gooey but mild American cheese. The kolache also has a tendency to fall apart rather easily, again owing to the easily yielding dough.

Shipley's Kolaches

We picked up our sausage and cheese kolaches from the Shipley's at I-10 and Dairy Ashford, a rather new location that features a drive-thru (as does Olde Towne Kolaches). Convenience, therefore, isn't a factor at either place. The smell inside Shipley's is that of bleach rather than fresh dough, but at least you know the place is clean.

A dozen sausage-and-cheese kolaches from Shipley's -- plus a half dozen glazed cake donuts, because we're weak like that -- was nearly $18 (the donuts were an extra $4.20). Oddly, the box of Shipley's kolaches gave off no aroma at all as we drove back to the office. Later, the aroma of a blown-out tire and debris on the side of the Katy Freeway filled our noses with the acrid stench of despair, but that's not the kolaches' fault.

Back at the office (eventually), several staffers preferred the meaty sausage in Shipley's kolaches to that of Olde Towne. When combined with the salty cheese, however, the one-two punch of sodium was too overpowering to eat more than one. At least one person also preferred Shipley's dark-brown, drier dough to Olde Towne's, citing it as "more substantial."

The Winner

Although the race was extremely close, Olde Towne's kolaches won by one vote. The soft, pliant dough and mild (if somewhat sweet) taste combined with the oozing cheese and mouth-watering aroma were victorious in the end. As Craig Hlavaty noted, "They were full of cheese and fell apart quick, just like my tenth grade girlfriend's prom dress." That said, no one makes a glazed cake donut like Shipley's.

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Katharine Shilcutt