A Visit to Austins Ethnic Bakeries

What do you do when you mix a traveling jones with a sweet tooth? For those with the time and means, a trip around the world probably sounds pretty good. If that’s not practical, you can do the next best thing – stop by one of the little local bakeries and pick up an ethnic treat to go.
Sweets are a traditional part of celebrations in almost every country in the world. Many, if not most of the favorite ethnic desserts we’re all familiar with are steeped in lesser known traditions and cultural heritage. Many of the bakers that own these local shops brought their experience and talent to Texas from other countries, and the culture of their native land is often reflected through the ambience as well as the food. Other shop owners are descendents of immigrants, and the confections they make are based on old family recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Either way, we get a little taste of the old country with every bite.
Here are just a few possibilities.
Phoenicia Bakery and Deli: This family-run business started out baking bread at the first location more than twenty years ago. Later, after receiving numerous requests from their customers to offer hard-to-find groceries along with the bread, the family began stocking shelves with one of the best selections of Middle Eastern food items in the city. Bins of cured olives and imported feta cheese from around the world are good reasons to visit, the best falafel sandwiches in the city are another, but it’s the pastries that really make it worth going out of your way for. All are homemade, and the baklava – all dozen or more variations of it – are some of the best in town.
La Mexicana Bakery: This long-time South Austin landmark is probably the most capacious Mexican bakery between Dallas and San Antonio, if not the state. Case after case is stuffed to the brim with dozens of variations of Mexican cookies, empanadas, pastries, cakes, and bread. The tops of the cases and tables in the front hold everything that doesn’t fit in the cases, crowned by bright festoons suspended from the ceiling in the colors of the Mexican flag.
Kolache Shoppe: Kolaches are a traditional wedding pastry from Czechoslovakia and a popular alternative to doughnuts in Texas. The large population of Czech immigrants that arrived here in the 19th century left thousands of descendents that have passed down the kolache tradition – and the recipes – from generation to generation. Kolache shops are more common in a few Texas towns where the Czech heritage is strongest and are advertised on the highway billboards. The town of West just north of Waco (“Czech Stop”), Caldwell (“Kolache Capital of Texas”), and La Grange (Gotcha Kolache?”) are among them. But according to many locals and out-of-towners alike, the reigning Kolache King of Texas resides in a tiny shop in a North Austin strip mall.
The castle may be small but the kingdom is vast – since the shop opened twenty years ago, it has earned a reputation for making some of the best kolaches this side of Prague. Calls from as far away as California and North Carolina eventually led to a line of wholesale mixes and dough to the trade. But the heavenly aromas that permeate the shop when it opens at 7 every morning have been bringing the same customers back for years, and to them it hasn’t changed – just the way they like it.
Croissant Time: Here’s one of those little, hidden away places that no one except a few neighborhood locals seem to know about. This modest and unpretentious little sandwich shop in a Southwest Austin strip mall is not where most people would expect to find a French-trained pastry chef, much less the former pastry chef of the four star St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio. One look at the exquisite pastries, tarts, and cakes on display in the pastry case, though, is your first clue that this isn’t your average sandwich joint. One taste of any of the pastries enclosed is your next. A bite into a chocolate éclair reveals real pastry cream, not the standard whipped cream filling that all except the very authentic places usually use. Along with the signature croissants that are made fresh every morning are a wide variety of other pastries and specialty cakes such as Dark Chocolate Mousse, Chambord and Opera Cake. The shop may be petit but the offerings are beaucoup. Bon appétit!

Users Reading this article are also interested in:
Top Searches on Baking Ideas:
Wedding Cake Bakeries Bread Bakeries
About The Author, Marti Kougel
Cathy Hastings is a writer about the finer living for the lifestyles and travel destinations of Texas. You can find some great information on Texas restaurants; destinations and attractions that you would not want to miss by visiting http://www.cuisineofsanantonio.com > San Antonio Restaurants and http://www.cuisineofaustin.com/ > Austin Restaurants .