Taking It On the Road

Just got photographs from my friend Lori Najvar taken during the Texas-Czech culinary tour that my Dad and I lead on June 1st for the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, which happened in Austin this year. It makes me feel exhausted and satisfied thinking about the day. An enthusiastic, curious, and patient group of attendees proved that Texas-Czech culture has sex appeal, sort of. I'm still amazed 23 people had enough interest to not just go on the tour, but PAY to go on the tour. And I wonder how many more people there are like that out in the world. Almost all of the attendees were from out of state, but we had a Texas Czech, a Texas German, and a relocated Nebraska Czech, too. 

My goal for the tour was to relay as much as I could about Texas-Czech foodways on the bus ride punctuated with edible examples at the best places I could find on the easiest/quickest route through Fayette and Lavaca Counties. I wanted people to know that Czech food is interesting, delicious, and that the traditions are alive and well. Here's the run down of the whirlwind, hot and dusty day.

7:45am - Loaded the buses at the Hilton Downtown with sponsored drinks and Zubik House kolaches... sweet ones with either dewberries or Confituras fig preserves and savory ones with either wild boar and mushroom or bacon/apple/brie. Since we were hitting a totally traditional bakery later in the day, I wanted attendees to see that there are some chefs expanding on the tradition by using unusual fillings that still honor its spirit. Dewberries are, of course, totally Texas, but you almost never find them in kolaches at the commercial bakeries. (Found them at Sengelmann Hall's bakery after some investigation.)

On the road from Austin to Schulenburg via 183 and I-10. Got my "bus legs", standing facing the back of the bus and ad libbing to the crowd at the same time. My Dad chimed in when moved to or thankfully took the microphone when I handed it to him because I ran out of (or forgot) things to say. I couldn't have done the tour without him, if for no other reason than emotional support. Sometimes a girl just needs her daddy. I can't tell you how many hours I spent agonizing over what I was going to talk about while we were on the move. I felt compelled to relay the entire history of Texas-Czechs and their foodways in one bus tour, which was, of course, a little unrealistic. 

City Market in Schulenburg, Fayette County. Plant Manager Wayne Kloesel was our host at this 67-year-old meat market that makes its own sausage and bacon as well as barbecueing on Saturdays. Attendees tasted pork garlic sausage, head sausage, dried sausage and homemade wieners and got to watch sausage being made. Owner Roy Smrkovsky (bear hunting at the time) was generous with the tastings and attendees made it worth his while by purchasing a lot of dried sausage... the only thing that was going to travel well back to everyone's home states.

Bread basket at Sengelmann Hall lunch.
Sengelmann Hall in Schulenburg. The hall needs a blog post all its own. After a tour of the upstairs dancehall, my compadre (pritelka) in all things Czech, Lori Najvar... hard working, independent film maker... showed her masterpiece Czech Links about the Morkovsky family and their tradition of sausage making. Favorite moment of the day... one of the attendees got teary eyed at the family-togetherness of the film and remarked, "I've got to call my sister soon." Then lunch... topinka (rye bread rubbed with garlic and fried in duck fat... YES!), Shiner beer bread and rolls on the table as folks sat down. The main courses were German ribs with sauerkraut and holubki (pork and beef-stuffed cabbage rolls) with garlic mashed potatoes. Shiner Bock beer and iced tea washed it all down.

Holubki at Sengelmann Hall lunch.
Kountry Bakery in Hallettsville, Lavaca County. Tour attendees were treated to the real thing here - svacina with coffee and prune, cottage cheese or apricot kolaches and a poppyseed roll. I cringed at some who had to have their Diet Cokes, but it was out of my control. My own family buys our klobasniky at Kountry Bakery for our Christmas gathering at the Kocian Building on the town square. Even better than the food was the presentation by Doug Kubicek, local school teacher and Lavaca County historian, who talked about the history of Czech settlement in the area all the way through statistics about how many family Czech farms are being lost as young people go away to college and don't come back. 

Putting an attendee to work slicing poppyseed roll at Kountry Bakery.
Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Lavaca County. Man, they do a good job with the tours. I've been on it twice now and the second time was as cool as the first. Annie Rabbe, the tour guide/PR powerhouse there knew we were coming and threw in Czech-related tidbits to make the stop more relevant. At this point in the day, I'm not sure what attendees were absorbing, but it was hard not to enjoy oneself with Annie's commentary and some exceptional beers. Shiner beer makes me proud I'm Czech, even if I have nothing to do with it. If I see someone order it, I puff up a little and think... hmmm... my grandmother made her first communion in Shiner's Catholic Church in the early 1920s. Does that make the beer taste better? Of course not, but for some reason it makes me feel some tangentially-related ownership.

Czech proverb - "Don't go to the pub without money." (...for t-shirts.) 
The worst moment of the day was leaving my 68-year-old Dad in a gas station parking lot on I-10 waiting for my aunt to pick him up. We had to keep moving!  Though he did get quite a send off with much applause and hand shaking. Then, the loooooooooooooong drive back to Austin. I'll just say.... bellies full of Shiner and kolaches, rented bus's air conditioning went out, overturned 18-wheeler on 183 caused a 45-minute delay just as we made it back to Austin. Enough said. But would I do it again?... hell, yes if I could find another 23 people who want to go. 

Attendee Pranee Khruasanit Halvorsen posted her gorgeous photos of the tour to Flickr. See them here and check out her very sweet blog, too, at www.ilovethaicooking.wordpress.com about Thai food. Thanks for the inspiration, Pranee!  

* All photos in this posting by Lori Najvar of PolkaWorks.


  1. It's so great to read this recap, Dawn! Thanks for sharing, and I wish I could have come. Hopefully there will be another trip...


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