The Bavarian snack is making a big-time comeback, and entire businesses are building their brand around them.
You see them, usually, hung like ornaments, arranged in those giant, see-through boxes at sporting events. Flecked with giant salt crystals, they're often found commiserating with grainy mustard or melted cheese. They've been around for more than 1,400 years, but these days, pretzels are showing up as the star of sandwich boards, often becoming a bun or a baguette with a distinctive twist.
They've been relegated to the snack pile for too long; a little hunger relief at the bar or the big sporting event. But pretzels are going mainstream thanks to the likes of Hannah's Bretzel, which just opened its third location downtown in the heart of the Loop.
"A bretzel is actually a, it is a pretzel, but in Europe and in Germany they pronounce it as bretzel. It's a lighter profile, but it has a lot of unique flavors -- rye, wheat -- made with butter," said Richard Kruczak of Hannah's Bretzel.
They offer two types -- a traditional Bavarian, speckled with salt, plus a multigrain version. At lunch, there's a steady stream of business, clamoring for hand-sliced meats and organic ingredients, stacked on either one. The "Sergio Special" features French ham and Swiss gruyere cheese, along with fresh avocado, sliced jalapenos and mango chutney on an organic bretzel baguette. The "Thanksgiving" sandwich is loaded with turkey, brie and romaine plus cranberry chutney, all on an organic whole grain baguette.
"I think the uniqueness behind it is the organic, whole-grain ingredients that we provide. They're sourced from the best vendors that we have available," said Kruczak.
In Lincoln Park, Chicago's pretzel pioneers have been keeping it in the family for 15 years. Kim and Scott Holstein recently opened their Cafe Twist near DePaul's campus offering both the stand-alone versions, as well as sandwich-worthy ones that differ greatly from plain old bread.
"A pretzel actually has a baking soda concentrate that's on top of it. It's baked into the dough, which creates that salty topping, and so that's really the difference between bread and a pretzel bread," said Kim Holstein, co-founder of Kim & Scott's Cafe Twist.
The cafe allows younger customers to twist and design their own pretzels, but they also offer satisfying meals paired with chili, or perhaps some grainy mustard or melted cheese. Sandwiches are all toasted, and some of them include the company's exclusive "stuffed" pretzels, which have chocolate or cheese or even tomato sauce inside, adding another dimension to a snack food that's more than 1,400 years old.
"Actually, we set out to transform that old, plain pretzel by putting ingredients inside and on top, so it really adds a unique 'twist' to the pretzel," said Holstein.
Hannah's Bretzel (3 locations)
131 S Dearborn St.
180 W Washington St.
233 N Michigan Ave.
Kim & Scott's Cafe Twist
2218 N Lincoln Ave
Fox & Obel
401 E Illinois