Friday, May 24, 2013

The Kolache Chronicles II: Weikel's in LaGrange

Weikel’s Bon Ton Bakery
2247 W. State Highway 71 Bypass, La Grange, TX 78945
(979) 968-9413
You can order online and get them shipped anywhere!

So, we were motoring south to the greater Flatonia-Moulton metroplex on a business trip and to do some reconnoitering of the area, and decided to do a kolache-BBQ thing along the way. That meant kolaches and baked goods at Weikel’s in LaGrange going down, and ribs and sausage at City Market in Luling on the way back. First the kolaches, posted here as a gustidude Kolache Chronicle. Like the lesser Hruska’s in Ellinger, 14 miles down the highway, Weikel’s is surrounded by gas station bling, aisles of tsotchkes, a burger grill, and mini-market aesthetics; there is absoluteluy nothing from the outside that portends how orgasmic the inside will be.  Unlike the Parker-roll similar Hruska’s, Weikel’s is a serious bakery, making the best Czecheriffic kolaches in the great state of Texas.

Opening day of the Bon Ton Café in 1929.  Pictured behind the bar from left to right are owners “Pop” Weikel and Alvin Weikel (Jim's Father) and the chef.

The Weikel family has been in the restaurant business since 1929, when grandfather Alvin Weikel, and Alvin’s brother, “Pop,” opened up the Bon Ton Café in downtown La Grange to feed the county’s pipeline workers. Alvin’s son Jim and his wife Jo Ann opened the bakery-convenience store in 1985. Jo Ann's grandmother Annie Kulhanek migrated from Czechoslovakia as a young child, and she and her eight sisters grew up making kolaches with their mom. Competing sisters trying to out-do each other and gain compliments from the older folks led to perfection of the dough recipe, and then Jo Ann and Jim worked with her mom's recipe to scale it up for mass production, developing a true-to-taste batch version that could be made on a larger scale. Weikel’s was off and running.

Now, the kolaches: We bought some cherry and some sweet cream cheese (cream cheese is the most popular flavor). The light golden brown pastry is sweet, but not overly so, and has a soft crumb with a rich, buttery, yeasty flavor. This is what a kolache is supposed to taste like. The fillings seem like they are from scratch (or at least seriously modified from a #10 can product, to make them taste as good as they do). The fillings are copious and bulging-out the bottom of the pastry, nearing escape mass. The cinnamon rolls are perhaps the best I have ever eaten, made from that same kolache dough, with lots of buttery, sweet, vibrant, and aromatic cinnamon between the spirals of dough, and a perfectly textured sugar glaze on top. They also make a version with pecans and raisins inside. Superb stuff.  Weikel’s is a true bakery, and the illuminated cases are full of all kinds of baked goodies.


The lemon bar looked so tempting I could not pass it up, so we got a couple of them. After a kolache fix while motoring south to our destination (the kolaches as good as we knew they would be), we decided that we had to try the lemon bars as well. This is without question the finest lemon bar I have ever eaten, and I have eaten more than my share of lemon bars. The golden brown crust is so incredibly flaky and buttery that it has a hard time maintaining structural integrity. The lemon custard filling is perfect: just the right balance of lemony citrus tang and sweetness, with the lemon edging the sweet out by a nose extended at the last possible second; the texture is creamy and smooth. The dusting of powdered sugar on the top, while seeming excessive and superfluous, adds just the required amount of extra sweet to the sour.

Word: do NOT attempt to eat this in a car. I looked like I had been shot at close range with a shotgun shell full of pastry shards and powdered sugar, and had both hands schmeared with lemon custard, with all kinds of lemon bar debris hanging 
off of my beard. I would have loved to have had a photo of me at the time, but didn’t dare touch my camera in that condition. We had to pull over and shake-off our clothes outside the car; the ants along the roadside probably had a field day. Then I licked fingers and slaughtered numerous napkins for the next 10 miles or so, but it was SOOOOO worth the mess.

On the way out to the car I had to grab a package of Prasek’s Hillje Venison and Pork Semi-dry Sausage Sticks with Jalapeño. Prasek’s is a 35-year old Czech sausage shop-butcher down in El Campo, known for the excellent taste and high quality of their products. These semi-dry sausage sticks are like deer-pork crack; get suckered into the first one and many more are going to fall before the dust settles. They are so good that you will be sausage stick-tweaking for the rest of the day. Smoky, coarse ground, slightly gamey (a good thing), rich and porky, garlicky and chile-spicy sticks of goodness. Yum. By the way, B-Jo’s Bakery, which is inside Prasek’s and started by Mike Prasek’s wife Betty Jo when her son needed braces, makes kolaches and strudel that are up on a level with Weikel’s.
29714 US 59 Hwy
El Campo, Texas 77437
1-800-20-SMOKE (207-6653)

 Now, if you have ever wondered how Weikel’s stacks up against their down-the-road competition in Ellinger, let me assure you that there is no comparison. Weikel’s kicks their ass so soundly that it is criminal to utter both names in the same sentence. Don’t want to drive all the way to La Grange for a personal visit? The wonderful thing about today’s modern now-a-go-go world is that with the click of a mouse and a credit card that isn’t maxed out, your friendly delivery dude will saunter up to your door with boxes of all the Weikel’s and Prasek’s you want. God bless Texas.

Mick Vann ©

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Frisco Shop and "T-Bone" Walker

The Frisco Shop

A month ago or so ago R was house and pet sitting at a nice little bungalow over in Allandale and we decided to grab a bite to eat. I had emailed a list of options, none of which she got too excited about, and to tell you the truth, none of them really fired me up either. After whittling down the list, we both settled on The Frisco Shop over on Burnet Rd. We have both been eating there for many decades, and there’s a large degree of comfort in ATX these days for things that don’t change; old landmarks that have stayed the same are fewer and farther between. You go to the Frisco and the food, the look, and the staff will all be the same as 30 years ago. It’s like a favorite pair of old jeans.

The Frisco opened in 1953 as a diner offshoot of the Nighthawk Restaurants of innovative restaurateur Harry Akin, just south of the intersection of Koenig Lane and Burnet Road.  It was one of the only restaurants in the area back then, and stayed put until it moved up the road a bit in 2008. Apparently that strip of Burnet Road where the Frisco had sat for 55 years was absolutely DESPERATE for yet another worthless-ass Walgreen’s.

Akin was the first restaurateur in Austin to integrate his restaurants, and his management staff; minorities and women both held positions of power. He established his own cattle ranch to supply his restaurants with beef, and started a very successful frozen food line, selling his frozen Top Chop’t steaks at the supermarket. He was one of the leaders of the Texas Restaurant Association and legislated for benefits for the restaurant trade, including successfully lobbying for Texas to get liquor-by-the-drink.

My connection with Nighthawk started as a child, around 1957. We would occasionally dine there when there was something to celebrate. If we really had a reason to splurge, we went to The Hitchin' Post, which is where Louis Shanks Fine Furniture used to be on Lamar, just south of 12th street, on the east side of the road in an elegant one story structure . It was upscale for Austin, and we three sons would get read the riot act before going inside, threatening us with whippings if we did our usual acting-out. My oldest brother Lynn was notorious for pushing my buttons, and many's the night when we dined out that I would end the dinner banned to the car in the parking lot while the rest of the family finished eating inside. Lynn would pick at me or kick me under the table, or give me the stink eye when no one was watching, until I exploded in rage and got exiled to the backseat of the car in the parking lot. We were obviously out of our element at the Hitchin' Post, mingling with the landed gentry from Tarrytown and Pemberton Heights.

What I loved most about the Hitchin' Post was that at the end of the meal they brought out a molded ice cream in the shape of a chess knight, a horse head, which reminded me of the logo for Paladin, played by Richard Boone, the TV show gunfighter famous for "Have Gun, Will Travel". They also had a raging fire going in the fireplace during cold weather; that seemed exotic to me. For "everyday" steaks (and “everyday” was still a rarity for us), we went to Hill's, “Home of the Sizzler”, which was out on South Congress, and did huge business. To a kid, the sizzling platters were a thing of fascination and awe.

But we did visit the Nighthawk at Riverside and South Congress, and I loved the clubby feel of it, and the waitresses were always real nice to us kids. My dad had a penchant for the southern food joints on Burnet Road, Kirschner's being one of his faves, but we would occasionally hit up The Frisco Shop, which was also owned by Harry Akin of Nighthawk fame. I could sense the similarity to The Nighthawk vibe, even as a kid, and grew to like the comfy vibe of the Frisco.

During college days at UT, our group (who all worked at the UT Coop bookstore), would amble on down to the UT Nighthawk for lunch, or for a post partying munchie fest late at night. C-Boy Parks was a fixture behind the grill and all of the waitresses were regulars who could dish it out as good as they could take it.

When I started working at the Pelican’s Wharf, down where King's Food Host used to be, and where Hooters now sits, I quickly worked my way up through the ranks, from temporary dishwasher, to dishwasher, to prep cook, to bus boy, waiter, and finally line cook. My mentor on the line was Curtis "T-Bone" Walker, the coolest Black chef that ever walked the tiles of an Austin kitchen. Like Hoover Alexander, Vernon O’Rourke, and Gordon Fowler, he came up through the ranks at the Harry Akin school of Nighthawk steak cooks and was an absolute genius at it. Watching Curtis work an overflowing grill was a thing of beauty. At the Wharf we had three chargrills in parallel, 12 (or was it 15?) linear feet long by 3 feet wide, and we were doing monster business back then, the most popular dinner spot in town: 400 to 600 dinners a week day night wasn't unheard of and we could breach 1,000 on a UT football weekend. That is a mess of steaks, k-bobs, prime rib, king crab, lobster tails, scallops, mahi, and shrimp.

A pic of the Victoria Pelican's Wharf, which opened in 1976...found this pic on Google Images. All of the locations looked similar.

There were two cooks working the line, and Curtis's training method was trial-by-fire. He wanted to train you as rapidly as possible, so that he could leave you to run the line solo, while he sat in the back flirting with the cocktail waitresses and hostesses with a Scotch or beer in-hand. The only time he came onto the line to bail you out was when it was balls-to-the-wall busy, or when you would get into the weeds (imagine a grill that size completely covered with ribeyes and k-bobs). Get trained by Curtis to cook at the Austin Wharf, and there were precious few that got the privilege, and you were among a very elite class of steak chefs. There was one other situation that would bring Curtis rushing out to the line: when one of the waiters told him that there was an “international” just seated at a certain table. “International at 3-4” meant a special guest was just seated at section three, table 4. That meant that shortly after, she would be coming through the salad bar.  

The salad bar ran right down the front of the cooking line, so the cook saw everyone that came through the restaurant, face-to-face. It was well-lighted, and on prominent display. An “International” was a beauty of such scope that she could easily be a model in Europe, and back in those days, “internationals” were frequents guests of the restaurant. The problem for a Wharf cook on the line was watching the board full of tickets (and it was always full), and keeping track of all of the food cooking, while simultaneously ogling the eye candy sliding their cold platters down the salad bar, as they bent forward to get ingredients out of the crocks on the back row.  Life was good.

But I digress. On this particular afternoon R and I ambled into the “new” Frisco as we call it, to find the same regulars working there, cooking and waiting tables, and a crowd that looked like they never left the joint.

The Frisco interior.....

 I had a hankering for the Tex-Mex enchiladas, which is what I used to order down at Nighthawk 2 on the Drag, and R ordered the Frisco burger and a side of their onion rings with little hesitation. Girl knew what she wanted. The onion rings are exceptional: handmade, with a cornmeal and flour crust and a doctored-up jalapeño ketchup with a little heat added. We scarfed them down as an appetizer.

The enchiladas are of the comforting type, heavy with Colby cheese and comino-laced chile meat sauce, stuffed with good quality picadillo ground beef. The beans are rich and meltingly tender, and the Mexican rice has just the right amount of tomato and garlic. This is a high quality platter of TexMex enchiladas. The Frisco burger is what the Frisco’s business was built on. A great burger patty and cheddar cheese with special relish and secret sauce, shredded lettuce and tomato, and instead of fries, R requested a monkey dish of their slaw, which she is big fan of. It is a typical sweet and sour style, but a little more tart than most, which I like.


For dessert we went for pie, R getting the icebox coconut cream and I got the chess, or buttermilk. The coconut could have been a little sweeter and richer, and the topping was whipped cream and not meringue. Not a big fan, but the crust was nice and flaky. I am typically gonzo for a buttermilk pie, but this one missed the mark; the crust was leaden and soggy, and the filling one dimensional. It was tired, and definitely not excited about me eating it. The feeling was mutual. All in all, mediocre pie aside, I love me some Frisco Shop. I can go there and disappear into a world 40 or 50 years back without a whole lot of effort.  

The Frisco Shop
6801 Burnet Rd.
Sun-Thu 7am-9pm; Fri-Sat 7am-10pm

Mick Vann ©

Chronicle food editor Virginia Wood did several great pieces on Harry Akin, the Nighthawk, and The Frisco Shop, here:                                         

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mick's Mix at Johnny G's

The Burger Mix
Johnny G's Butcher Block
11600 Manchaca Rd  
(512) 280-6514

A couple of weeks ago I sent an email to Grover Swift, the owner of Johnny G’s Butcher Block in Manchaca, a favorite of carnivores down south. I suggested that he do a special grind of burger mix with brisket, short rib, and bacon; a “squealer” patty, but made with better cuts than just a standard chuck. I was over at Rancho Winslow a couple of weekends ago, and we saw Grover out “walking” his dogs in the back forty. Grover and Jill just moved in immediately behind Rancho Winslow, so CBoy went out and put a nice gate in their adjoining fenceline. Grover’s idea of “walking” his dogs was for him to sit in his truck, beer in hand, air conditioner on, and window rolled down, while he drove slowly around the pasture in big arcing circles, while the dogs trotted and panted alongside. “Beats the shit outta me actually walking them,” he said. “That would involve walking.” The man did have a point.

So we decided to amble on over and say hey, and once inside his new house we started talking ground meat. You probably don’t know this, but Johnny G’s grinds the meat for many of your favorite burger joints in town, and the dude certainly knows his burger meat. As the negotiations commenced, I told him that I wanted an equal blend of short rib, chuck flap, and brisket, with a little bacon thrown in for fat; something around 75-25 on the lean-o-meter, and not too finely ground; fat equals flavor, and it should have some coarseness to it. Short rib, we all understood, but chuck flap threw the group into a loop.

Grover does flap meat for kebabs, just like we used to do at the Wharf back in the day, after tri-tip got discovered and became too expensive for the corporate profit margin. Marinate and grill some flap meat and you have a fantastic kebab that melts in your mouth. But ask anyone where flap comes from and arguments ensue. Chuck flap is also known as “chuck edge”, or “chuck under-blade”, a cut from the serratus ventralis which is a very highly marbled muscle. In your NAMP Meat Buyer’s Guide it is number NAMP 116G. In California (and France) they call the other cut flap, or bavette d'aloyau, a fan-shaped cut that’s an extension of the T-bone and Porterhouse on the short loin. The NAMP Buyer’s Guide says it’s the NAMP 185A, or the obliquus internus abdominis muscle from the bottom sirloin butt. Same word, but two different cuts of meat from opposite ends of the cow. So what we finally agreed upon to sample was a 70-30 blend, coarse ground, of 10% short rib, 60% brisket, and 30% smoked bacon; a “squealer” by definition (a burger patty containing ground bacon), but a very tasty, very beefy squealer.

Art and I had a restaurant consulting meeting and chatted about marketing of the new book we have coming out on how to open and operate a restaurant (see link below), and cooked up a couple of behemoth burgers to try out the blend. I molded a couple of 9-ounce patties and fired up a skillet, while Art had cut and pre-soaked some spuds for pomme frites. The burger patties cooked up nice and juicy and tasted fantastic: a nice, rich beefy flavor with smoky undertones of porky bacon. We ate them on some Pepperidge Farms Italian White bread with some mayo and mustard (he had ketchup instead of mustard), chopped sweet onion, and ripe tomato slices. The spuds were blanched halfway at 330°F, and then finished at 365°F , so they puffed up and got golden crispy on the outside. That is what ketchup was meant for, a proper fried potato. We scarffed it all down, grunting with glee as we went. The leftover meat we shaped into a big meatloaf and cooked it off, not for meatloaf, but for meatloaf sandwiches: the king of cold meat sandwiches.


Top view

I love the juiciness of a 70-30 blend. The next batch I might cut back on the bacon to 20%, with 35% brisket, 35% chuck flap, and 10% short rib; the chuck and brisket should have enough fat to keep the whole mix at 70-30, even with the bacon reduced a smidge. I’d love to have more short rib in there, but it’s gotten so damn expensive since the wonderkid chefs discovered what the old soulfood cooks knew all along: slowly braise a short rib and it’ll melt in your mouth. Maybe I should try grinding some oxtail before the bistro babies discover them too.

Cross section

Link to the new book:

Link to Grover's shop:

Austin Chronicle article on local sausages:

Mick Vann