Living in Pennsylvania means coming to terms on a daily basis with having stolen (borrowed from immigrants, whatever makes you feel better) the concept of “the pretzel” from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as parts of Italy and the Alsace region of France. Rather than take art, music or science from the Swiss or the Germans, we got dough.
Living in Philadelphia, however, is another story altogether as the soft pretzel – along with the cheesesteak – has become the City of Brotherly Love’s Defacto Culinary Legacy, despite its wealth of tony restaurants and enterprising innovative chefs tweaking worldly menus regularly.
Philadelphia’s love of the soft pretzel – yes, it can be a carbo-loading, stomach bulging whole meal when stuck together in a row and slathered in yellow or brown mustard – means that, according to studies, the average Philadelphian consumes over twelve times the national average. That number just happens to be like 1.5 pounds of pretzels per year. Man, that is a lot of dense, knotted dough, hard or soft. And even though the Pretzel Museum, which opened in Philadelphia in 1993, is now closed, in 2003, one-time Philadelphia mayor turned Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell – a man with a robust and healthy appetite – declared 26 April 26 “National Pretzel Day” despite the fact that I don’t know if he had the jurisdiction to make that proclamation, you know, national?
So what is the best of what to do and where to go on National Pretzel Day?
One: Find an Auntie Anne’s.
I know, they’re the token of every mall and train station and airport lounge in America. But seriously – the ever-so-slightly cinnamon sugared one with butter. WTF?!
Two: Rowhome Coffee
The (all-but-literal) toast of the Fitler Square area has been baking and thrilling locals with its soft pretzel breakfast sandwich filled with egg, bacon and cheese since the Rowhome opened in 2020.
2536 Pine St, Philadelphia, PA 19103-6426
Three: The Prime Rib at Live! Casino & Hotel
Gamblers, sports row habitues and lovers of hearty dining can appreciate this double holiday selection for the twin back-to-back holidays of National Pretzel Day and National Prime Rib Day: a pair of juicy Pretzel Bun Prime Rib Sliders served with homemade beer cheese sauce. Stay overnight at the hotel, and keep eating on April 26 and April 27.
900 Packer Avenue, Philadelphia, PA
Four: Center City Pretzel Co.
If you’re not dining out on a morning’s breakfast of champions at South Philly’s home bakery – now updated for higher yields and modern mechanics – you, quite frankly, are missing out on the genuine local experience of procuring soft pretzels. I have watched grown men cry while lining up six, hot, freshly baked pretzels in a row and mixing up the yellow, Dijon and spicy mustards as if they were dough scientists postulating their way through a grant-studied lab experiment.
816 Washington Ave # 18, Philadelphia, PA 19147-4717
Five: Emmy Squared
Emmy Squared builds its Le Big Matt (see what they did) burger from its savory fresh baked pretzel bun down to its flush double stack of Pat LaFrieda grass-fed beef patties, slabs of American cheese, Sammy Sauce, greens and pickles. Oh, they do pizza too, but….
632 S. Fifth Street, Philadelphia, PA
Six: Chestnut Hill Brewing Company
The Chestnut Hill Brewing Company is known from city to county for its home brewed craft beer and its Soft Pretzel Trio with Dijon mustard and jalapeño beer sauce for a crazy traditional savory delight.
Multiple locations across the Philly/PA area.
Seven: White Dog Café
University City’s rustic fine dining home, the White Dog Café, offers up a house baked pretzel bread that they served with spinach artichoke spread, mustard and ever-so-slightly pickles. The White Dog has great food to begin with, but this is the kicker.
3420 Sansom Street.
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