That was the inevitable conclusion we reached during a recent cheese steak-eating expedition through Philadelphia orchestrated by Roadfood team member Marc Bruno. Between cheese steaks (about which reviews will soon be posted here) we cleansed our palates at Rita’s Water Ice stand with cups of finely shaved ice saturated with bright red cherry syrup that was dotted with little bits of fruit. It was especially delicious (was that because of the water from which it was made?), so good that we all ate fast enough to suffer serious brain-freeze.
The other break in our cheese steak hunt was at Center City Pretzel Company, where we picked up eight freshly-made soft pretzels. By this point in the day, we had all eaten enough cheese steaks that appetite was becoming only a distant memory. But the aroma, then the taste of these big soft pretzels proved irresistible. There is a certain brackish tang to the flavor of the pretzel, especially to its tan skin, that is like no other – a flavor that many experts attribute to the Philadelphia water in which they are boiled before being baked. Whatever the cause, these pretzels, hot from the factory, are superb. They are supplied to vendors throughout the city, but by the time they get to where they’re going, in most cases they have lost their freshness and their sparkle.
When you get a pretzel at Center City, it will likely be warm, especially if you arrive early in the day (doors open at 4am!). It is dense, chewy, and full flavored – a true bread-lover’s pretzel – and it, is of course, sprinkled with coarse salt. Some connoisseurs like to have a little mustard as a condiment. As far as we’re concerned, one (or a few) of these big softies need nothing to attain street-food perfection.
"Four fresh soft pretzels, ready to be pulled apart and chawed on"
"Even mid-afternoon, as Center City Pretzel Co. had shut down its ovens and was about to close, this place was hot inside. The pretzels we got, although at least an hour out of the oven, had a fresh chewyness and vivid flavor that put them among America's finest."
"Eight pretzels in a brown paper bag: snacks for a long afternoon"