There are some things in life that sneak up on you. A Trump presidency, for example. Or finding out the dress is really blue and not gold. Or realizing you’re pregnant four months in. But confronting the fact you’ve lived in a city for over a decade and still have yet to experience its best breakfast pastry offering is damn near inexcusable, yet here here I am; or should I say, there I was. I recently remedied the fact that I’d never made the trek to the Southern reaches of Greater Houston, Texas for a kolache from The Original Kolache Shoppe on Telephone Road. I might be a late bloomer, but I am forever now a believer.
The Kolache Shoppe itself is bursting with charm. It’s small and unassuming from the outside, crowded inside, with windows sporting burglar bars, very little seating—a handful of barstools in the shape of red bottle caps — burlap coffee sacks on the ceiling, a glass partition behind which those marvelous kolaches reside temporarily, and an open view into the kitchen where a team continuously makes pastries and engages in friendly banter across the room with patrons in line. But it’s clean, warm, and borderline-cluttered, but in a homey way, not a messy way, and it smells like heaven.
Part of the aroma is due to the full coffee bar, using house-roasted beans from their own "Zeppelin Coffee" label, and of course, most of it due to the kolaches themselves. The final element of swoon is the soundtrack. FYI, cherry kolaches and Colombian coffee from a generic paper cup are best paired with The Black Keys, Led Zeppelin and Kansas classic, "Dust in the Wind."
If you're confused on what a kolache actually is, don't fret. It's a regional pastry brought to Central and Southeastern Texas from Czech immigrants over a century ago. There are multiple variations, but the most common are made with a yeasty, fluffy dough and stuffed with either sweet fruit fillings or savory combinations like sausage and cheese. The former look like square rolls with a dollop of fruit in the middle (very Danish-like), while the latter resemble dinner rolls, the components hiding inside waiting to be exposed with that first bite.
As for the versions at The Original Kolache Shoppe, I chose a cherry one for fruit and a sausage, cheese and jalapeño for savory. We all need balance in our lives. Kolaches are no exception. The fluffy factor is high with the fruit versions, with the dough rising on the sides, a perfectly sized indentation of sweet cherry-pie-like filling in the middle, sprinkled with streusel, giving it a subtle boost in texture. And is that a hint of salt on the outside of the dough? Why yes, yes it is.
The pleasure of the savory kolache is the combination of ingredients. Kielbasa plus cheese plus pickled jalapeños wrapped up in a kolache equals magic. Slightly spicy, salty, meaty, tangy magic. Which is my personal favorite type of magic. (Sorry David Blaine.)
So, the secret of The Original Kolache Shoppe's goods aren't necessarily their 60 years in business, their down-to-earth building, their friendly service, house-roasted coffee, a rocking guitar riff or even their kolaches. It's the sum of its parts, which all equal up to an authentic Houston breakfast experience. Ok, so maybe a large part of it is the actual kolaches. Either way, don't wait as long as I did to find out.