Ordinarily when I drive across Texas to work for a week, I have my foot to the floorboard. I just want to get where I’m going and relax for the evening. That seems to be a trait I inherited from my daddy.
On vacations, we started at night, so kids would sleep. Daddy always drove straight through to our destination. Woe be unto anyone who had to make a “pit stop.” It was usually at the side of a road for those who couldn’t pee in a cup. I’m not that intent on getting there. I also know where every clean restroom is on my regular routes.
On my last trip, I decided that instead of two-steppin’ it across the state, I would waltz across Texas. I left Denton under skies that looked like clabbered milk. Across the smooth green flood banks of the Trinity River, I watched the skyline of Fort Worth, like a snaggle-toothed old woman, as it approached and then receded in my rearview mirror. Fort Worth has lots of territory to explore, but I saved that for another day. I had another destination in mind.
I was headed to West, Texas. Not “west Texas,” but to the Town of West. It is south of Fort Worth and a few miles north of Waco on Interstate 35.
Why West? One word: kolaches. I was hungry for breakfast, and this Tex-Czech community is known for those lovely pastries. If you have never had one, it’s something like a sweet bread tart with a fruit filling in the center. Kolaches are delicious! If you enjoy cooking, Texas Monthly Magazine featured recipes for kolaches many years ago. Personally, I’d rather drive somewhere and have them served to me.
Usually in my haste to get on down the road, I satisfy myself with kolaches from The Czech Stop on the highway. It’s a gas station, but they sell kolaches. I’d venture to say that most travelers think that what they see on the highway is all there is to the town of West. It’s not. And, the kolaches at the Czech Stop are not necessarily the best in town.
I know, because I did a taste test. Oh, the sacrifices I make for the reading public! At the Czech Stop, I bought an apricot kolache and a sausage kolache.
Then, I went downtown across the railroad tracks on Main Street to another “well-known” local bakery: The Village Bakery. A man named Wendel Montgomery opened it in 1952, and it has been a local favorite since that time. It’s still run by his wife. Again, I got an apricot and a sausage kolache.
You must realize that sausage kolaches are not really a Czech food. They were invented in West (according to the locals) in the 1950s. Wendel Montgomery was looking for a “hook” to get people into his bakery. He got his mother-in-law to bake the kolache dough around some sausages and had a phenomenon on his hands. Technically, they are “klobasniki (I think I am reading my “henscratching” correctly),” which means either “pigs in a blanket” or “little sausages,” depending on whose translation you believe.
Before I sat down to eat them, I stopped at one of several antique stores in town and then went to the local museum. It’s in the old Train Depot on the railroad tracks, and you can’t beat the price—admission is free. You can’t miss it. The woman running the museum suggested that I might want to stop at Kaskas, another bakery, before taking my taste test. After browsing in the museum, I did just that.
I sat in the park with three sets of kolaches in front of me and ATE EVERY ONE! I don’t have any pictures of them. I’m sorry. I gobbled them down too fast. Here’s what I can tell you:
- All of them were good, and you probably wouldn’t notice much difference. The ones from the Czech Stop didn’t seem quite as fresh as the others. The pastries from Kaskas had dough that seemed a little bit lighter and sweeter than the others (they were my favorites).
- I think your choice of bakery would depend more on atmosphere. The Czech Stop has none. When you stop, there are always tons of people in there, and you get herded through like cattle. You won’t want to stop and eat your pastries there. Kaskas actually serves meals, so you could have a “sit-down” meal with your kolaches. They also have wireless internet, if you can’t be away from your computer for very long. For “local flavor,” you want to pick the Village Bakery. If you time it right, there will be lots of the locals in there having their morning coffee. It feels like a small town bakery should.
- Don’t eat six kolaches at one sitting.
If you want to “experience” West, and its Czech heritage, go to the town on the Labor Day weekend for the Westfest. It features a parade, a carnival midway, booths with arts & crafts, feasting on “authentic foods,” a “fun run (that’s an oxymoron if ever there was one),” and a Miss Westfest contest. On the stages all weekend are lots of polka bands (including Brave Combo from Denton) and folk dancers. The whole festival begins with a “Polka Mass” at the Cultural Amphitheater. It would probably be worth the visit just for that.
“Polka Mass?” You’ve gotta love it.