“If security could ever have a smell, it would be the fragrance of a warm Kolache.”
When you marry someone, you don’t just acquire a new spouse. You inherit an entire family of individuals with all their personality quirks, foibles and eccentricities. For me, “Big Fat Irish-Swedish-New Mexican Wedding” quickly morphed into “Home Alone” with me in the role of Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin). In all fairness, I only felt alone among my in-laws when discussions about where to have dinner came up. My in-laws’ reactions to some of my dinner suggestions (Vietnamese, Korean, Basque) were similar to the reaction you might have if I’d suggested we try cannibalism. You have to understand that my in-laws embody the stereotypical Midwestern meat and potatoes dietary lifestyle. Sure they enjoyed such Chicago staples as Chicago hotdogs, Italian beef sandwiches, pizza as thick as a casserole and barbecue ribs the size of those which tipped over Fred Flintstones car, but for the most part, it was unadventurous American fare all around.
The sole culinary adventurer among my in-laws was Uncle (by marriage) Bill who had a predilection for Bohemian food and Jewish delis. (Bohemian here, by the way, means the westernmost Czech region, not someone leading an unconventional lifestyle.) So when he suggested we dine at a Bohemian restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, I enthusiastically seconded his suggestion (albeit without ever having experienced Bohemian food). Uncle Bill gave me a primer on what to expect, rhapsodizing poetically about Bohemian versions of sweet and sour cabbage, chicken and dumplings, pot roast and other dishes he made to sound life-altering in their deliciousness. As usual I was the last person in our party to place my order, waiting to see what everyone else was having so as not to order the same thing. Upon ordering “thüringer” (a distinctively spicy German sausage and the only thing our party of thirty didn’t order), Bill bellowed “you ordered thüringer! Nobody orders thüringer!”
Fortunately I redeemed myself at meal’s end by ordering plum kolache for dessert. It was my very first experience with kolache, a sweet, fruit-filled pastry which originated in the Czech Republic and Slovak region. The wheel-shaped yeasted dough with a generous dollop of plum in the middle was indeed quite delicious, reminding me a bit of the empanadas enjoyed throughout New Mexico. As with empanadas, almost all Bohemian kolache are sweet. Even the popular cream cheese kolache are sweet. So, how do you account for the vast diversity of kolache fillings found throughout the fruited plain—the kolaches stuffed with meats, vegetables and combinations thereof? What’s the story behind kolache not always shaped like the traditional Bohemian precursor to all kolache? The short answer is that the world is getting smaller.
When European immigrants crossed the Atlantic and settled across the fruited plain, they brought with them the recipes and foods of home. Tightly-woven enclaves of Czech, Germany and other Eastern European communities across the United States remain ever vibrant in maintaining their cultural and culinary traditions. In the mid-1800s, more than two-hundred Czech communities were established across the Texas hill country between San Antonio and Austin. Kolache soon became very popular among other established cultures in the area and as foods often do, began evolving to fit culinary preferences and traditions of those cultures. In short order, Cajun and Mexican influences began the process of diversifying what had been primarily a sweet pastry. Kolache stuffed with Cajun boudin sausage or the contents of a breakfast taco made the kolache an inter-cultural hit across the hill country and beyond.
With the kolache straddling several constituencies, it was only a matter of time before they would be made available to the masses. In 1982, the Kolache Factory was founded in Houston, Texas, a vastly under-served area when it came to kolache. Founders John and Jerri Banks embarked on an ambitious marketing campaign to introduce consumers to their fresh product. The fruits of their labor is an ambitious nation-wide expansion plan. Today there are 23 company-owned and 23 franchise stores throughout Texas as well as stores in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Virginia, California and one in Albuquerque. The Duke City’s Kolache Factory is located in the Paseo Village on the northwest corner of Wyoming and Paseo Del Norte.
Kolache Factory has been recognized across the country as one of the Top 5 Drive-throughs in America by the Food Network, one of the fastest growing companies in Houston, and was recently named one of the top 50 food service bakeries in the United States by Modern Baking magazine. In addition, Franchise Times magazine listed Kolache Factory as one of the top 20 bakery-cafés to watch. Kolache Factory has also developed innovative partnerships with Major League sports franchises. All indications are this is a franchise and a concept going places. Uncle Bill would be proud
He would not be proud, however, of the 2.9 (out of 5) rating the Kolache Factory has garnered on Zomato (though Yelp reviewers accorded it a 4-star rating). It certainly made me wonder whether the Houston (200 miles away from hill country) interpretation of kolaches was too far a departure from tradition—not that many of us in New Mexico have had the opportunity to understand the kolache tradition. For comparison’s sake, some New Mexicans would not be happy if our sacrosanct empanadas were stuffed with egg foo young, chicken tiki masala, chocolate mint ice cream or sundry other non-traditional fillings.
Albuquerque’s Kolache Factory is an immaculate restaurant with a menu listing more kolaches than some of us can conceive. There are so many different kolaches offered that they’re categorized on the website menu as Favorites, Sunrise Delights, Breakfast/Lunch, Meal in One, Specialties and South of the Border. Go to the online ordering page and the categories are not only narrowed down, they include such non-kolache options as croissants and Polish sausage. Those categories are: Seasonal (the kolache of the month), Traditional Kolache (9 fruit and cream cheese choices), Egg Kolache (five choices), Savory Kolache (14 choices), Polish Sausage (three choices), Sweets (4 options) and Croissants (3 choices). The sheer number of choices is staggering.
Accompanying me on my inaugural visit was my friend and colleague Scott McMillan who’s married to a Texan so he, at least, has had kolache. We both ordered the New Mexican kolache (carne asada and green chile). Though the chile has a definite bite, it also has a distinct herbal-aromatic-gingery flavor. We agreed it was probably cardamom, but when we asked a manager all he could tell us is that the recipe calls for a spice that starts with the letter “c” but he couldn’t pronounce it. In any regard, it’s not a spice or flavor often (if ever) found in New Mexico green chile. Scott liked it enough that he plans to order it again though he says he’ll bring Tums with him.
Several of the kolache at the Kolache Factory have a shape and texture akin to Chinese dim sum custard buns. They’re roundish in shape and have a soft yeasty-bready texture. By themselves, the bread orbs are delightful. It’s in choosing the right toppings where the difference is made. Alas, though I ordered two different kolache–a “pizza” kolache and a sausage and pepper kolache, their flavors were somewhat redundant. Not bad at all. Just very similar in flavor. The pizza kolache is packed with thin pepperoni wheels and just a bit of sauce. The sausage and pepper kolache was the kolache of the month for September, but perhaps it should be part of the standard daily menu.
Strudel Niks, escribed on the “sweets” section of the menu as “Looking for a super flaky crust look no further. Our strudels may not be the neatest to eat according to your shirt, but they are light, perfectly cooked and filled with your choice of apple or Black Forest filling. A super sweet treat! My favorite, of course, (thank you Dagmar Mondragon) will always be apple strudel, but the Black Forest filled strudel with a chocolate and white icing is also quite good.
In parts of Texas, even 7-Eleven stores sell kolache. If the kolache becomes so popular that Alsups and 7-Eleven begin selling them, credit the Kolache Factory for making them another imported dish we can’t live without.
8001 Wyoming Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 7 October 2017
1st VISIT: 27 September 2017
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Apple Strudel, Raspberry Strudel, Sausage & Pepper Kolache, Pizza Kolache, New Mexican Kolache