Jason Helmer and his two sons, Adam and Alex, have a Saturday ritual: They get up early and go to American Ice Company to be first in line for Republic Kolache, a pop-up bakery serving a Texas breakfast staple. Saturday was their 8th week to be the first customers.
This week, there were a few more people in line behind them. A crowd gathered Saturday outside of the popular V Street, NW bar to get their hands on this week’s special creation: a king cake kolache. The latest in fusion pastries, a la the Cronut, king cake colaches have been a huge draw at this already popular pop-up — last Saturday, they were sold out of everything by 11:45 a.m.
Kolaches were popularized in Texas, where a large Czech population settled in the state beginning around 1850. And like many recipes taken from any homeland, the kolache has evolved to incorporate local flavors.
A Texas kolache is a slightly sweetened square piece of bread used as a vehicle to add either fruit, cheeses, or meats. The pastry is flexible, allowing for both sweet and savory options — usual fare at Republic Kolache includes those filled with cream cheese custard and pecans; half-smokes, cheddar and jalapeno; chorizo and egg; and apple compote. So incorporating the ubiquitous Mardi Gras staple of King Cake was a pretty natural thing to do this time of year.
Chris Svetlik, one of the owners of Republic Kolache, said the product launch “reminded me of the first couple of weeks we were open, we were totally slammed. Long lines all day.” And this week, the lines were back as people were getting ready to try the pastry filled with cinnamon cream cheese and dusted with the Mardi Gras colors of green, gold, and purple.
His collaborator, David Guas, a New Orleans native and owner of Bayou Bakery, was excited to come up with something to celebrate the holiday that merged Texas and Louisiana culture. David makes authentic king cakes for his bakeries, and he knew it could translate well to the bread-based kolache. (And some of the special kolaches came with a small baby figurine, entitling winners to another kolache.)
Customer Miram Chaudry raved: “It might even be better than real king cake.” Tom Rose, dressed in a Mardi Gras wig and wearing beads, was excited about the kolaches: “I’m a native Texan, my wife is from Louisiana. This collaboration works well for our marriage.”