Ellen Daehnick was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and has fond food memories of her years there — and she wants to share those food memories with you. She's been making caramels and other sweets under the Helliemae's name for the past few years, but on Saturday, November 19, she's launching Post Oak Hall next door to her candy kitchen at 6195 West 44th Avenue in Wheat Ridge, bringing Houston-style po' boys, kolaches and other treats from her home town to the northwest suburb.
So what exactly is a Houston-style po'boy? Daehnick explains that it's a little different from the fried shrimp or oyster sandwiches of Louisiana that most people are familiar with. Her po'boys follow the the blueprint of Droubi's Bakery & Deli, a Syrian eatery that began selling Western-style sandwiches to attract a broader clientele. Other Houston delis like Antone's popularized the style, which in its purest form is just ham, salami, provolone, dill pickles and chow-chow on a French baguette. Chow-chow, a bright-yellow relish eaten throughout the South, is made primarily with pickled cabbage in Texas; Daehnick makes her own with cabbage, green tomatoes, mustard and turmeric.
For the bread, Daehnick shopped around many artisan bakeries before deciding that she needed a baguette that wasn't too crusty or firm; she settled on Vietnamese banh mi baguettes made by Vinh Xuong Bakery on West Alameda Avenue, mainly because the texture was the most similar to the sandwiches she recalled from her high school and college years, but also as a nod to the thriving Vietnamese community in Houston. A smear of sweet butter is the only other condiment she's adding.
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Helliemae's is known for more than caramels. Daehnick has also been making salted-caramel banana pudding — a hot commodity among those in the know who hunt down and buy up jars of the stuff whenever Helliemae's releases a batch. That pudding will be available at the sandwich shop, along with what Daehnick calls "the trashiest lemon pie in the world" (trashy from a saltine-cracker crust and sweetened condensed milk), vaquero cookies made with chili, cinnamon, coffee, dark chocolate and oatmeal, and peach kolaches for truly homesick Texans.
Post Oak Hall will initially be a takeout-only operation open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Daehnick says she plans to gauge demand and slowly add more hours as needed. But if you go, hang out and chat for a spell; Texans may not have invented hospitality, but they've certainly mastered it. "Texans are like the Labrador retrievers of the human world," she explains. "We're genuinely happy to meet you."