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The year of the pretzel: Even high-end Houston restaurants are jumping into the new food craze

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Auntie Anne’s At-Home Baking Kit pretzels
Want to try the pretzel craze at home? You don’t have to be a baking whiz; you can buy Auntie Anne’s At-Home Baking Kit. Auntie Anne’s/Facebook
Palm Restaurant Houston Pretzel Bread and Cheese Fondue
The Palm, that bastion of old school fine dining that recently underwent a $5 million makeover, has a new Prime Bites menu that features — wait for it — pretzel rolls with Nova Scotia lobster and bacon fondue. Photo by © Renee Comet
The Counter Oktoberfest hamburger, fries and beer
Try The Counter, which is introducing a new Ocktoberfest menu with a pretzel bun burger. Photo courtesy of The Counter
Local Foods truffled egg salad
Local Foods has truffled egg salad on pretzel bread! Photo by Marene Gustin
Wendy's pretzel bacon cheeseburger
Wendy’s has a new pretzel bacon cheeseburger on the menu. Wendy's/Facebook
Auntie Anne’s At-Home Baking Kit pretzels
Palm Restaurant Houston Pretzel Bread and Cheese Fondue
The Counter Oktoberfest hamburger, fries and beer
Local Foods truffled egg salad
Wendy's pretzel bacon cheeseburger
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

As a youngster in Germany my friends and I used to cruise downtown Wiesbaden to see the cathedrals, the tack shops and huge department stores.

But the trips always included stopping by at least one of the pretzel carts on downtown streets. These were big, hot, doughy pretzels with lots of salt and mustard on the side. They were delicious and nothing like the hard, crunchy little tasteless treats sold in bags back in America.

Some reports date the beginning of the pretzel back to 610 A.D. when an Italian monk invented pretzels as a reward for children who learned their prayers. He called the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, pretiola (little rewards). This is from a film that used to run at the Pretzel Museum in Philadelphia.

 While bacon is still riding its 15-minutes of fame, 2013 seems to be the year of pretzel. 

Yeah, I know. That would be so cool to visit but sadly the privately run museum closed.

Anyway, the pretzel spread rapidly through German speaking regions and likely arrived in America via German immigrants who were misnamed the Pennsylvania Dutch. (Hence the museum in Philly, a city that claims to be the pretzel capitol of America.)

And then Americans did what they tend to do. They turned this delicious snack into those tiny, crunchy bland ones in bags sold at supermarkets.

But suddenly, the pretzel is back, the real, doughy, made by bakers, pretzel that is. While bacon is still riding its 15-minutes of fame in eateries, 2013 seems to be the year of pretzel bread, buns and rolls. And oddly, they pair quite well with . . . bacon.

And they’re showing up on menus from fast food chains to white-linen restaurants.

Wendy’s has a new pretzel bacon cheeseburger on the menu. It’s a bacon cheeseburger with honey mustard sauce on a warm, soft pretzel bun. The Motley Fool credits this sandwich, launched in August, with the uptick in the company’s stock. Could be.

And Dunkin’ Donuts joined the pretzel craze this month with a new, limited-time Pretzel Roll Roast Beef Sandwich — and the limited-time option of a pretzel bun is available for any of the chain's Bakery Sandwiches.

Grown Up Pretzels

A little more upscale you say? Comin’ up.

Try The Counter, which is introducing a new Ocktoberfest menu with a Pretzel bun burger you can build your way. Plus Local Foods has truffled egg salad on pretzel bread!

 Who knows how long the pretzel craze will last? I’m certainly enjoying it right now. 

Most of these concoctions are surprisingly delicious. Very reminiscent of those long ago street pretzels: Soft and chewy bread covered by a crunchy crust spotted with sea salt.

Who knows how long the pretzel craze will last? I’m certainly enjoying it right now. Apparently a lot of people are.

But my new favorite pretzel dish is far from a street vendor snack.

The Palm, that bastion of old school fine dining that recently underwent a $5 million makeover, has a new Prime Bites menu that features — wait for it — pretzel rolls with Nova Scotia lobster and bacon fondue.

It’s an awesome bar snack or appetizer for meals. The rolls are warm and delicious topped with plenty of salt and as an added bonus, ground black peppercorns.

Oh, and dipped into the fondue, it’s heaven on a pretzel.

“That dish is selling very well in the bar and in the main room,” Houston Palms executive director James Martin says.

“I don’t know why the pretzel bun. We just needed something different and these are tasty. I’m addicted to them!”

And who wouldn’t be?

Want to try the pretzel craze at home? You don’t have to be a baking whiz — you can buy Auntie Anne’s At-Home Baking Kit. You can pick one up at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I’m told the pretzels are fairly easy to make and taste just like the ones you buy in the shops in the malls.

But good luck making that lobster bacon fondue at home.

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