Tex-Czech lives in Bed-Stuy

Sweet and savory treats on DeKalb Avenue

April 5, 2019 Scott Enman
Take your pick: lemon curd, strawberry and sweet cheese, or apple. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Kolache
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Homesick Texans and Brooklynites break bread — or rather, kolaches — every morning at this bustling Bedford-Stuyvesant bakery.

Brooklyn Kolache Co., a mom-and-pop coffeehouse and the first kolache eatery in New York City, serves more than 25 varieties of the Texan-influenced Czech pastry, a delicacy hard to come by outside the Lone Star State.

While not many people can agree on its pronunciation, or if a savory one technically counts as a kolache at all — there is one thing everyone can come to a consensus on: They’re scrumptious.

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“Every Texan in the city finds their way here eventually,” manager Crystal Huyett, originally from Dallas, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The best, most gratifying thing is when people say, ‘They’re just as good or better than Texas.’ That’s a huge compliment.

“We’re giving them that taste of home that they grew up with. We give them their kolache fix. A lot of people come from New Jersey, or some people who don’t live nearby will make a pilgrimage here and get a huge box of them all at once.”

Think of it as warm challah filled with anything from candied pecan to melted cheese and sausage.

Dip it in your coffee and you might just have a sensory overload. But beware: If you go after 5 p.m. on Sundays, it’s two-for-one — a deal that will leave you in a food coma.

“Kolaches are part of our identity,” Dawn Orsak, a Texas-Czech folklorist, told Texas Monthly. “In the same way that Italians would be proud of the way their mom made ravioli, or Mexican-Americans, the way their mom made sopaipillas.”

It’s difficult to bring something new to the Brooklyn food scene these days given the borough’s diverse selections, but Autumn Stanford and Dennis Mendoza, a married couple and co-owners of the store, did just that when they opened at 520 DeKalb Ave. in 2012.

Crystal Huyett, manager of Brooklyn Kolache, said, “every Texan in the city finds their way here.” Eagle photo by Scott Enman
Crystal Huyett, manager of Brooklyn Kolache, said, “every Texan in the city finds their way here.” Eagle photo by Scott Enman

“Kolaches are perfect for New York in the sense that they’re affordable breakfast sandwiches, like pigs in a blanket,” Stanford told the Eagle. “They’re fast; everyone is in a hurry in the morning. You’re not waiting for someone to make your egg-and-cheese. They’re ready, so you can walk out the door and they’re delicious.”

On a given day, Brooklyn Kolache will bake 25 to 30 different flavors.

Have a sweet tooth? Select from lemon curd, strawberry and sweet cheese, apple, poppy seed, coconut, chocolate, or peanut butter and jam.

Feeling savory? You can choose from sausage jalapeño and cheese, Texas smoked beef sausage, smoked ham and cheddar, spinach and feta, mushroom and goat cheese, chorizo egg and cheese, or pimento and cheese, among others.

Johnny Thanphachanh, a Bed-Stuy resident who has been coming to Brooklyn Kolache for seven years, says he loves the atmosphere and unique food offerings. His favorite is the sausage, jalapeño and cheese, which Stanford confirmed is the store’s bestseller.

“It’s a good neighborhood spot,” Thanphachanh said. “Everyone is friendly. It’s consistent, and it’s unique in its offering as far as the pastries and the food. I tend to go for the savory ones. I like a little bit of spice.”

Sanford said they’re in the process of opening a second smaller location with a larger goal to franchise the eatery.

Kolache vs. klobasnek

There has long been a dispute over the differences between kolaches, the sweet pastries brought to central Texas in the 1800s by Czech immigrants, and their savory cousin, the klobasnek.

“Savory kolaches are not real,” Sanford said. “Texans will cite you on this because there’s the traditional kolache, which is sweet, and then there are these chains that started in Houston that started making savory kolaches, but they’re not traditional.”

Sweet vs. savory: Spinach and feta and coconut kolaches. Eagle photo by Scott Enman
Sweet vs. savory: Spinach and feta and coconut kolaches. Eagle photo by Scott Enman

In the Texas Monthly piece, writer Abby Johnston firmly states that if “it’s not sweet, it’s not a kolache — it’s a klobasnek.” She admits that for years, she too was living a “linguistic lie.”

Journalist Katey Psencik made one final plea in the Austin American-Statesman to set matters straight in December 2016.

“I call upon you, people of Central Texas, to stop referring to these meat-filled delicacies as kolaches, and call them by their rightful name,” she wrote, adding, “The Czech community will thank you.”

Want to guess the plural version of klobasnek? It’s klobasniky. Try saying that 10 times fast.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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