I don’t consider myself a soft pretzel-lover. I’m never going to list it under “interests” on any social-media profile. In an ice-breaker game, I will never claim it as my favorite food. Should my life take a dramatic turn and I end up on death row, it won’t be included in my final meal. I’m never going to ask for one for my birthday, or develop a craving for them that demands immediate attention.
Soft pretzels are pretty neutral territory. There is no passion in our relationship, just co-existence. Yet, in recent weeks I’ve found myself mysteriously drawn to them. I’m still not drooling over them, proclaiming my love to people on the streets and ripping open my shirt to reveal a full-chest pretzel tattoo.
But I’ll find myself at Frankford Hall for happy hour and, noticing that it’s just $1 more, ordering a hot Bavarian soft pretzel to accompany my half-liter of beer with a name I can’t pronounce. Or, I’ll skim the brunch menu at Green Eggs Café in Northern Liberties and be drawn to the Philadelphia-style eggs benedict featuring a poached egg topped with béarnaise sauce on a slice of pork and a cream-cheese laden pretzel roll. Even while cruising through Annenberg, if a friend stops to buy a pretzel, I’ll mindlessly do the same, not even realizing what I’m doing until it’s halfway digested.
Now, dear reader, comes the hard part – not in a physically difficult way or a mentally challenging way, but in a kind of emotional, existential kind of way: How much longer can I claim to be neutral toward soft pretzels if I continue to eat them like a fiend?
Last week I consumed three soft pretzels – yes, three – in a mere five days. When did I become the Philadelphia ambassador to Pretzelville? Should I take this reflective moment as a wake-up call and try to maintain my neutral pretzel stance? But that would require me to give up all soft-pretzel eating and do I really want that?
On the other hand, those sound like the words of a pretzel lover. Who am I? What have I become? Do I embrace this new development in my personality? So many questions, dear reader, and so few answers. My heart feels as though it has just come back from a spinning class, where it was yelled at to increase speed and tension on a tiny heart-sized spinning machine, and it forgot to grab a towel and a water bottle before class began.
It’s a heartbreaking level of stress and drama. But as we know from every sitcom ever made in the history of the planet Earth, the best way to confront any issue that you want resolved within a tidy, 22-minute period is to face it head on. In this case, that meant making soft pretzels.
Though I had toured an Amish pretzel factory a decade ago, I did not quite feel up to attempting the dough-twisting part of pretzel-making. I could have easily gone to Auntie Anne’s and observed for a few hours, taking notes and watching the pretzel pro’s wristwork but I’m not interested in getting a restraining order taken out against me – maybe that would have been the fatal mistake that led me to death row.
You know what’s way easier than pretzel twists? Pretzel rolls. Which are just shaped like little rocks. Or a pair of rolled up socks. Or a small, partially deflated balloon. Anything small and spherical, really.
Bread-making is a little more involved than the Ramen-loving cook may be used to, but it’s still a fairly simple process and a good project for a lazy Sunday, or a lethargic Tuesday.
The end result? I’ve upgraded my relationship status with the soft pretzel. I’m still not penning any pretzel poems, but the relationship has clearly entered a friendlier realm and the internal turmoil has ceased. I can now order a soft pretzel with a clear conscience, knowing I am not betraying my former self.
For those also looking to get friendlier with the soft pretzel, you’ve come to the right city. As I mentioned before Frankford Hall at Girard and Frankford avenues has some killer soft pretzels with a spicy mustard dipping sauce that will make your eyes water. Green Eggs Café at Second Street and Fairmount Avenue does brunch right with their Philly-style eggs benedict.
For a more classic pretzel, I recommend participating in the Philly Pretzel Ride. Starting every Tuesday night at 11:50 p.m., bikers cycle from the Art Museum to South Philly to enjoy hot soft pretzels at Center City Pretzel Co. They’re dirt cheap – the change in the bottom of your backpack should be enough to buy at least one or two – and the fact that you worked to get there and it’s the middle of the night makes them even more delicious.
Caitlin Weigel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.