The smell of bread, like Thanksgiving dinner rolls, embraces us as we leave the van. It’s the Saturday before Mother’s Day, and a major travel day here. Maybe Baylor kids are heading from Waco to DFW. Perhaps, like us, folks are making the trek from Houston to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I suppose as many people head southward as northward.
The Czech Stop is a Shell gas station at exit 353 on Interstate-35 in West, Texas. That’s West, the town in Texas, not West Texas the region. It’s a tradition, an icon of road food in the region. Copycat businesses have attempted to build nearby, trading on the reputation of “That gas station at exit 353 with the great kolaches”.
Kolaches are a Czechoslovakian bakery staple, and by default a staple of all bakeries in the state of Texas, Czech or not. Sweet dinner roll dough, indented to hold sweet fillings that are somewhere between a pie-filling and a preserve; or wrapped around sausages and cheese. Anywhere else they’d be Pigs in Blankets, but in Texas they’re Sausage Kolaches.
The Czech Stop has a sister shop, the Little Czech Bakery. They share a parking lot, and the kitchen along the back of the building. I guess it was to help with the crowds, but this Saturday, the lines filled both shops. People bring their kids, their grand-kids … and they buy dozens of pastries for the family members they are headed to see for the holiday weekend.
There are quick lunch items in addition to meat kolaches. It is, after all, a convenience store and gas station. However, it’s the down-home, saran-wrapped, Egg Salad, Ham & Cheese, and Texas Style Pimento Cheese sandwiches that catch my attention. Vending in theme parks with policies against customer lines means I have a radar for yummy things that can be prepared in advance of a rush. At 10:30 on a holiday Saturday, the shop is maxed on employees. Selling items that require assembly at best lengthens the customer’s wait time, and at worst cuts into the bottom line. However, it’s that home-made element … the sandwiches may be made in advance, but the bread was baked in-house. It doesn’t get much better than that in the world of sandwiches.
It’s Sunday evening now, and I couldn’t stand the idea of driving past again without stopping. I wanted to try and photograph the classic kolache. I bought a dozen mixed kolaches, including cherry, lemon-cream-cheese, pumpkin-cream-cheese, mixed berry, the old-school prune kolache, plus a pimento cheese sandwich on whole wheat. We peeled off of the interstate, and utilized our well-worn copy of The Roads of Texas to find a more meandering route back to Todd Mission. I took the photos of the kolaches in our kitchen here. The pimento cheese sandwich was a more immediate pleasure.