What: As in Philadelphia, pretzels have been on the streets of New York for more than 150 years, once costing just a penny and, before Prohibition, enjoying a raffish reputation as a beer-drinker’s food. Though the German-born salted doughy snack is still peddled widely from street vendors, the quality of the product today can vary wildly: Chances are, your average mass-produced, frozen-shipped street pretzel will be a bit dry, lacking flavor, and in desperate need of mustard (at least some of them still come from Brooklyn). Luckily, a new wave of bakeries and restaurants has noticed the void of fresh, homemade, just-out-of-the-oven pretzels in New York, so there’s hope yet.
Where: You can count on fresh pretzels at Sigmund’s Pretzel Shop (29 Ave. B betw. 2nd & 3rd Sts.) in the East Village: The Russian pastry chef-owner hand-rolls and -twists them daily, churning out both German favorites—salted and seeded pretzels, like those with sunflower or poppy seeds—and more unorthodox options like garlic-parsley and jalapeño-cheddar. All are organic.
Order: Try a plain salted ($3)—it’s the best way to appreciate the pretzel’s fresh, ropy-soft innards and chewy, richly browned exterior—plus one of the flavored kinds (we liked the jalapeño-flecked variety, $3, but wished for more heat). Pretzels are heated up (if not oven-fresh) and come with one dipping sauce; we preferred the herbed goat cheese, whole-grain mustard, and honey mustard.
Ed's note: Sadly, Sigmund's has closed and is currently (as of early 2018) offering its delicious pretzels wholesale and online only. Please see our alternatives for more pretzel options.
Alternatively: You can try your luck on the street, but for fresh NYC-made pretzels—as opposed to the tasty but shipped-frozen-from-Bavaria varieties sold in a handful of German restaurants and biergartens—try the 2012-opened Brooklyn Pretzel Factory (7504 5th Ave., Bay Ridge, map) for hand-rolled pretzels in various flavors, as well as other traditional Brooklyn treats like egg creams and knishes. In Manhattan, you might head to The Redhead ( 349 E. 13th St. nr. First Ave., map), an East Village gastropub serving house-made soft pretzels (served with Kentucky beer cheese, $9); or check out cozy wine bar Ardesia (510 W. 52nd St. nr. 10th Ave., map) in Hells Kitchen, where homemade NY-style pretzels ($7) grace the “snacks” menu. If you think bigger is better, look no further than the German-esque oversize pretzels at The Standard Hotel’s Biergarten (848 Washington St. betw. Little W. 12th & 13th Sts., map) in the Meatpacking District: Made fresh by none other than Sigmund’s, they are grilled and served warm to order—the perfect accompaniment to a cold mug of beer.