We set out to find and devour stuffed food from every possible culture right here in the Bayou City. From empanadas to dumplings, kolaches to samosas, we're getting stuffed.
So far this series has neglected the most essential of Texan stuffed meals — the almighty kolache. This week, we put an end to the injustice with a shout out to our favorite place in the world to procure these fluffy morsels of Czech descent. None other than Richmond Ave's 49-year old institution, Kolache Shoppe.
If you've ever left the state of Texas for an extended period of time, you may be aware of a tragic fact of life. Few people outside the Lone Star State even know what a kolache is. In fact, you don't have to travel very far into west Louisiana to find doughnut shops that don't sell them — doughnuts without kolaches? Are we animals?
Yes, the kolache as we know it today is a uniquely Texan creation popularized in the appropriately monikered Czech Belt of Central Texas. While the original eastern European variety is a sweet pastry, dented in the center and filled with fruit and cheese, modern Texas kolaches run the gamut of savory, salty and sweet.
Kolache Shoppe is one of the oldest Texas kolache businesses still around today. Opened by Erwin Ahrens in 1970, the small family-owned bakery owes its decades of success to Ahren's much revered recipe for Czech dough. A recipe he claimed to have derive from every Czech grandmother he ever met. That dough has become the foundation, literally, for nearly 50 years of success, making Kolache Shoppe the regional standard for good kolaches.
In all fairness, every item on the Kolache Shoppe menu is worthy of its own column. From ranchero eggs and salsa, to venison with cheese, to a sweet menu that includes apricot, blueberry, cherry and cream cheese. Our focus this week, however, is on a particularly savory fusion of two Texas culinary traditions; the smoked brisket kolache. The beauty of this particular pastry is in its rich history, or rather, the history it represents. A brisket kolache is a marriage of the old world and the new. European stuffed dough meets Texas smoked beef in a mouthwatering combination of two cuisines so closely intertwined we hardly consider this a fusion.
Like everything behind the glass at Kolache Shoppe, the dough is fluffy, cloud-like and mildly sweet. Inside, tender bits of shredded brisket greet you with a wave of smoked beefy goodness and barbecue joy. Each kolache is somewhere between small to medium, so two or three is not too glutinous a meal. Make sure you save room for a sweet one as well because, well, obviously. And of course, grab a cup of Boomtown Coffee for the road. (pro-tip: all kolache's are buy one get one free after 11 a.m.)
Occasionally, in our rush to taste and write about everything that is new, diverse, and gourmet in the Houston food scene, we forget to stop and enjoy our city's oldest and most nostalgic culinary treasures. The kolache is, quite literally, a defining Texas food. It was around long before the thousands of amazing and trendy restaurants we love so much, and will be around long after many of those trends have passed.
Kolache Shoppe has two locations in the Height and Greenway. Both are open Monday through Friday from 6 am to 12 pm, and Saturdays from 7 am to 12 pm.
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