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Pitting Pretzel Against Pretzel

On a mission to find the city's softest.
Monday Sep 05, 2005.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

A few weeks ago, one of my partners in crime, Jamie, raced into our office wielding a small brown menu and a set of wild, excited eyes. She was raving about Hannah's Bretzel, the new organic pretzel shop that had just opened downtown. She tossed the menu at me and practically demanded that I get there right away.

"You're gonna love it," she claimed, pointing out its organic ingredients and the thick slathers of butter draping each bretzel (German version of a pretzel). Well, I kept that little menu (and the image of a soft, chewy pretzel) on my desk for weeks until a particularly grueling work day forced me to race out of the office (avoiding all responsibility) and head downtown (in rush hour traffic, no less) to give the supposed pretzel nirvana a go.

Joining me was Lisa, my other PIC, and we raced through traffic, literally squealing to a stop directly in front of the tiny bake shop. We were beyond excited as we strolled through the front doors, slowly taking in the sterile but pleasant decor and the full wall covered with exotic chocolates. Though the menu looked great, with fresher, healthier options than most shops, I skipped all that jazz and ordered exactly what I'd heard so much about: a butter-smothered bretzel. (Of course, I wanted to destroy all chances for a heart-healthy, whole grain version, and asked for mine to be covered in loads of butter and cream cheese, but the gregarious and ever-present owner strongly advised against it, which I heeded.)

When I finally got my paper encased bretzel (it takes a minute or two, as they are baked earlier in the day, laying out in the glass-fronted case 'til ordered and then sliced, slathered with topping of choice and heated up) and took my first big bite, I was stunned. I guess I was expecting a full-on, doughy wonder, with soft pockets of butter. What I got instead was more a rough-hewn version of a pretzel; much thicker, chewier and whole grainier than I've ever seen a pretzel (or wanted one to be). Though good, it certainly wasn't something that I'd crave. Don't get me wrong, I happily ate every last bite of the bretzel, but somehow I left there feeling like what I'd really like was an "old-fashioned" pretzel; the kind that pulls apart and seduces you with its fresh-baked scent (oddly, the bretzel smelled of nothing).

After a few seconds of debate, Lisa and I tore directly over to Water Tower, and headed straight upstairs to Auntie Anne's Pretzels. Now, I know this is a chain (which I usually avoid), but you cannot tell me that you haven't been waltzing through O'Hare and stopped dead in your tracks at the intoxicating smell that emits from this pretzel powerhouse. I know I have (it's called buy two, get one free, kids).

After grabbing a couple of plain, salted pretzels that had just come out of the oven (with a side of cheese sauce), I couldn't even make it back down to the truck before tearing into the soft, easily rippable burst of heaven. I quickly sprinted the rest of they way back to the truck, ripped open the door, and tossed one in Lisa's lap. The intense aroma filled the whole truck within seconds and we sat in utter silence 'til the very last, crudely torn section was gone. Now that's a pretzel with legs, especially if it can keep our two jabber-mouth's quiet.

The final rave: Though Hannah's looked as if it pumped out some delicious sandwiches, I'm stickin' with the old Auntie Anne's standby for my twisted, doughy fix.

Keep it going:

Read it: Barnes & Noble
Head to any nearby B&N and keep it local by ordering one of Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels. These two Chicago-based entrepreneurs are facing such success they're opening a pretzel bakery this fall, where kids (and adults alike) can twist their own pretzels.

Drink it: Wrigley Field
Though many fans don't know it, Wrigley serves up some of the most potent blended strawberry daiquiris in the city. Grab one of those mama's plus a chewy pretzel from any vendor and join the masses for the last games of the season.

Eat it: Chicago Chocolate Company
Though not softy and chewy, this company is taking it one step further and covering its hard pretzels in chocolate. White and Dark. 'Nuff said.

Get crazy with it: The Philly Pretzel
All I can say is wow. Now, all you have to do now is get there, or you can just order direct from the oldest bakery in Philadelphia. They do indeed Fed-ex.

The Raving Dish lovely. Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.


Explore More

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Go Dutch at Vincent and satisfy a familiar sweet tooth at BomBon.

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