Has Cincinnati become the national mecca of the soft pretzel? It seems like the Queen City is well on its way, with all the recent entrants to the market. In the last two years, four brand new business specializing in soft Bavarian style pretzels have opened in Greater Cincinnati. And that doesn’t include the local bakeries that make their own pretzels, knots, and twists. These new entrants aren’t your run-of-the-mill festival pretzel that is frozen, reheated, salted and sat under a heat lamp for hours. These are hand-kneaded and hand-rolled and many even use the authentic German methods of preparation.
In an earlier post, I told the history of the man who brought the bretzel to Cincinnati – Mr. E. F. Kurfiss. His bretzel was the traditional Baden-Wurtemburg, lye-dipped soft pretzel, with a fat belly and thinner arms. Today we expect our pretzels today to have a consistent diameter. If they’re not we think them deformed and odd.
The standard festival hot pretzel in the U.S. morphed from another version of the pretzel, the Lititz Pretzel. In 1884, Greater Cincinnati lists Michael Grau (1834-1923), an immigrant from Thungen, Germany, as the “Baker of the Only Genuine Lititz Steamed Bretzel.” Thungen is between the Baden-Wurtemburg /Palatinate region and Upper Bavaria – Germany’s bretzel baking regions. Grau started his bretzel bakery in 1868 on Monmouth Street, Newport, Kentucky’s central business district. He made his pretzels in a less caustic mix than the lye of the Baden-Wurtemburg version Kurfiss brought. The problem is that the less caustic mix doesn’t break down the gluten proteins in the dough to amino acids that can be caramelized through the Maillard reaction that takes place in baking.
For years Servatii has been known for their huge three and six pound soft pretzels that are served with beer cheese dip for large parties. They still make the largest soft pretzel in the Greater Cincinnati area. They have the typical salted version and a sesame seed version. Their Bavarian pretzel recipe was carried from Muenster, Germany, by founder, Wilhelm Gottenbusch in 1963 when he started the first Servatii’s in Hyde Park.
Pretzel Baron, founded in 2015, is an extension of the Servatii’s family, and sells retail packed Bavarian soft preztels. In January of this year, Valora Group acquired Pretzel Baron for an undisclosed amount. Valora is a Swiss-based independent retail company that runs a retail network of more than 2,500 convenience and food service outlets in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and France. The company also is a world leader in pretzel products, operating a bakery-products value chain.
Then there’s Bretzel OTR which opened a few years ago at 14th Street near Vine. They started in Columbus, Ohio, but saw the expanding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, with its Germanic history as a growth market. Bretzel makes 40 different flavors of hand rolled Bavarian style pretzels – flavors from spinach-asiago to orange-thyme.
A lowkey German themed bar in Covington, Wunderbar, bakes its own oversized soft pretzels. They can be found at the bar, and at Braxton Brewery in Covington as well.
Now Bellevue, Kentucky has its own local pretzelry, the Pretzel Place. It’s in the former space of Twisted Sister, another pretzel bakery, and new owners Beth and Brad, are using the same recipes for pretzels and pretzel knots as Twisted Sister. They have something called the Pumpkin Spice Dessert Pretzel Knot that’s definitely on my radar!
Now if someone could come up with a sourdough caraway rye soft pretzel, I would be in heaven!