Jobs in the local packing plants drew a large population of Czechs to Cedar Rapids in the mid-19th century. Today, you can find Czech Village just across the Cedar River from downtown. It boasts restaurants, shops, and even the National Czech and Slovak Museum, but the heart of the neighborhood is Sykora Bakery, which first opened its doors in 1903.
The staff at Sykora Bakery is friendly and patient, especially considering that my first visit was mostly me pointing at something interesting in the glass case and asking, “Ooooh, what’s that?”
The zelnik is a soft, doughy roll, filled with cabbage and caraway, making it a cousin to runzas and bierocks. A dense3 mushroom torte is moist with the mushrooms in a light cream sauce. There are two different types of kolacky cookies: the larger ones are open, shaped like a bow-tie with a flavor like pie crusts, while the smaller, closed, shortbread kolackies are filled with fruit and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.
As good as all those are, the Number One thing to have is kolaches, which come in about a dozen different flavors, including such favorites as lemon and poppy seed as well as fig. With dough that has just the right amount of sweetness, these match up with any kolache I’ve had in Texas. Next time we come, I am looking forward to trying the famous Bohemian rye bread and an interesting Bohemian hamburger, with poppy seeds.
Proximity to the river has meant several disastrous floods over the years. There are photos on the wall from past deluges, but the devastating flood of 2008 was the worst one yet, bringing water almost to the ceiling and ruining the original oven. Sykora reopened almost a year later, attaching that oven door to a wall as a testament to the bakery’s resilience.