I first tasted a Philly Soft Pretzel from an Amish vendor at Reading Terminal Market a few months ago. Warm and buttery with a golden brown crust and doughy center, this was nothing like the Auntie Anne’s pretzels I had as a kid. I haven’t forgotten it since, so when I discovered a recent little spot in D.C. called The Pretzel Bakery, I jumped out of my seat.
Philly native and D.C. resident Sean Haney started baking his variation on the classic pretzel for family and friends a few years ago. Wanting to share his recipe with Washingtonians, Haney opened The Pretzel Bakery in Hill East near Eastern Market a few months ago. On its first day, the bakery completely sold out of pretzels.
Haney has found his niche in the “we only serve one kind of food but we do it really, really well” trend that is quickly spreading throughout the District. Specialty shops that only sell one food of superior quality, or restaurants with one concept such as Toki Underground’s ramen noodles, or New Orleans Po’ Boy Shop’s sandwiches are big right now. I find that more and more people are willing to go out of their way like I did (I live across town in Adams Morgan) and spend a few extra dollars on one delicious product.
Sandwiched between red and tan painted row houses, The Pretzel Bakery’s location in a residential neighborhood is a bit odd. The red awning and large umbrella on the front patio stand out from the street, while a chalkboard sign on the ground outlines the bakery’s simple, but smart concept – Pretzels, coffee, soda and water.
To accompany your pretzel, the bakery also offers Gulden’s spicy brown mustard (from Milton, Pa., north of Philly), caramel mustard, Nutella and Philly cream cheese.
Haney hand rolls, twists and bakes his pretzels from scratch daily. They are $2 each, $5 for three or $18 for a dozen. After ordering your pretzel at the front door (it’s more like a half door-half window), you pay, and then wait a short time. You can enjoy your pretzels on the front patio underneath the umbrella or take them to go.
I opted for three pretzels with sides of Nutella and Gulden’s mustard. Not mixed together of course, but one pretzel dipped in mustard and then the other dipped in Nutella.
Haney’s pretzel has a golden brown color on top and is speckled with sea salt. The pretzel appears small, but it is much thicker than ones I’ve had in the past. The shape varies slightly from a stereotypical soft pretzel, giving it a personal, handmade feel. Because this pretzel is so thick, I expected it to be too doughy. To my surprise, the center was light and airy.
I matched my first pretzel with mustard and the second with Nutella. The third I saved for later. Each condiment shined in a different way – the acidity of the mustard and the sweetness of Nutella both worked to balance out the saltiness of the pretzel. This was good stuff.
Haney’s pretzels are not an exact copy of the Philly staple, but why should they be? (If you want to have a real Philly pretzel, then go to Philly!) Like popular D.C. sandwich shop Taylor Gourmet puts a spin on the classic Philly Hoagie, Haney crafts a unique personality for the Philly soft pretzel.
If only The Pretzel Bakery wasn’t so far away from my apartment. Haney should consider the Adams Morgan/Dupont Circle late night food scene – I can most definitely bet there is a market for a soft pretzel with Nutella at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night. I know I’d be in line.