For about 14 years, a large chunk of my week was spent commuting from my home in New Braunfels to my job at a newspaper in Austin. That 50-mile stretch became as intimately familiar to me as walking from my bedroom to the kitchen.
Over those years, many habits formed. I got hooked on satellite radio, then podcasts, to pass the drive time. I learned how to make mental checklists on the road so that when I arrived at my destination, I was fully prepared for the day or night ahead. And, to save time, I learned how to eat while driving.
In the wrong hungry hands, eating while driving is as dangerous as texting and as risky of mess as eating a giant spaghetti and meatball dinner while wearing a white tuxedo. You can’t eat anything that requires utensils, and the contours of what you’re eating must be easily identifiable by touch so that you don’t take your eyes off the road.
For morning commutes, Pop-Tarts, it turns out, are a fine way to get crumbs everywhere. So are biscuits and most snack bars. Breakfast tacos, a personal passion of mine, spill picante sauce and flavorful juices everywhere without one’s total attention.
In 2012, when Buc-ee’s built its gigantic gas station in New Braunfels, the answer arrived as if delivered by a beaver with angel wings: the kolache. It was as if Buc-ee’s heralded a new age of kolache visibility; suddenly they were in gas stations, bakeries, and grocery stores all over the state. Texas has gone gaga for the historic kolache, rediscovering the treats over the last decade, whether it’s the sausage-filled pastry known as “klobasnek” (still called “kolaches” by many) or the fruit-topped variety available alongside donuts and strudel in many bakeries around the state.
The Texas Kolache Trail has made these Czech treats destination-worthy, but outside of towns such as West and Ellinger, you can still find some excellent eats, say along the Austin-to-San Antonio Interstate 35 corridor. In my area, the oldest bakery in Texas, Naegelin’s serves a bratwurst kolache that’s worth exiting the highway to find as well as tiny baby kolaches surrounded by flaky layers of delicate dough.
Dos Gatos Kolache Bakery in San Marcos divides its menu into “Texas Kolaches” (the ones with meat or savory veggies) and “Czech Kolaches,” those with fruit, cream, or cheeses. While some bakeries serve klobasnek that look like pigs in a blanket, they are more like puffy pastry rolls.
Most donut shops in the Hill Country serve some form of kolaches; some of my favorites have come from New Braunfel’s Donut Palace, which has finger-size, cheese-filled klobasnek alongside delicious baked donuts and chocolate donut holes. Donut Palace is located right off the highway.
What do these kolaches and klobasnek have in common? They are all perfectly commute friendly, fitting nicely in the unwatched hand and apt to make less of a mess than about 90 percent of your other road food options. There will be no powdered sugar spilled, no grease from a fast-food burger, no unseemly shirt stains, unless you somehow topple a blueberry kolache onto yourself.
Appreciate the travel-worthiness of road kolaches. They helped make my commute bearable for many, many long drives.