"The cheesy pretzels knocked me out."
Sigmund Pretzel Shop
29 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009 (b/n 2nd and 3rd; map); 646-410-0333, sigmundnyc.com
Service: Friendly, haphazard
Setting: Surprisingly spacious storefront with picnic bench seating
Compare It To: Miller's Twist, Zaro's
Must-Haves: Jalapeno cheddar, Gruyère paprika, and caraway pretzels, beet horseradish, whole grain mustard dipping sauces, turkey sandwich, smoked salmon sandwich, jelly doughnut, cranberry tea
Cost: Pretzel sandwich, drink, and jelly doughnut about $15; $3-3.50 for just a pretzel
A great soft pretzel is a beautiful thing—chewy on the outside, tender on the inside, a hint of sweetness, yeasty, light, salty. It's a little like pizza crust. The best soft pretzel I've ever had was from the Fisher's stand (now Miller's Twist) in the Reading Terminal market in Philadelphia—that's my working definition of pretzel greatness.
And yet the world, or should I say New York, is filled with lousy soft pretzels sold by street vendors—pretzels that are heavy, cold, hard, and flavored by propane. And soft pretzels had been given a bad name, by all the ridiculously expensive, highly caloric soft pretzel kiosks we are confronted by at airports and train stations.
So when I heard that lawyer-turned-pastry chef Lina Kulchinsky, who had worked at Bouley and Danube (that's where she got her Eastern European baking orientation), had opened an artisanal pretzel shop, it got my attention.
Kulchinsky's plain, simply seasoned pretzels ($3) are indeed a beautiful thing, fulfilling all my wanton pretzel desires. The salted pretzel has just the right amount of salt. The poppy and sesame pretzels are perfectly fine, if not all that interesting.
But the caraway pretzel tastes like a great piece of seeded rye bread in pretzel form.
The cheesy pretzels (all the flavored pretzels are $3.50) knocked me out. Jalapeño cheddar pretzel had the perfect ratio of caramelized cheese to pretzel, as did the nuttier gruyere paprika pretzel, though neither packed much heat. Neither did the 7 chile pretzel. Maybe she needs to add one or two more chiles to the mix.
I liked the parsley-garlic pretzel. It had enough fresh-baked garlic and Italian flat leaf parsley flavor and mercifully none of the awful garlic powder flavor.
The dips (one free with every pretzel) were an inspired touch. My favorites were the wholegrain mustard, the herb goat cheese, and the beet-horseradish mayo. Whipped butter and cream cheese were less interesting. Nutella freaks should note that Nutella is among the dipping sauce options. A better sweet dipping option, for my money, is the honey mustard.
The pretzel sandwiches ($7) are a fine idea. Made to order on a split soft pretzel, they have the right ratio of pretzel to filling. The fresh roasted turkey with gouda and apple was just about a perfect sandwich, and the Norwegian smoked salmon with dill cream cheese and cucumber was pretty swell as well. Tomato, mozzarella, and pesto will satisfy the tomato, mozzarella, and pesto freaks that seem to be everywhere, and the roast beef needed more juicy roast beef to make it work.
The sweet pretzels need some work. Cinnamon raisin needed more cinnamon, and the caramel pecan, which looked so full of promise, turned out to be dry, hard, and uninteresting.
A word to the pretzel-wise: It is absolutely essential that these pretzels be eaten warm or even piping hot. As they cool they get harder, heavier, and tougher. My friend Anil made a suggestion that I heartily endorse: Sigmund's should get a "Hot Pretzels Now" sign, à la Krispy Kreme.
Kulchinki's homemade filled doughnuts ($2.50, either filled with raspberry jam or Nutella) are another story entirely. These suckers are insanely good, light, greaseless, and just the right size. Cherry-walnut brownies ($2.50) are so wet and moist they tasted unbaked, and the oversized chocolate chip cookies ($2.50) needed more chips.
You could drink your dessert by ordering a cup Valrhona Drinking Chocolate ($2.50), which is not helped by the organic milk offered as an add on ($1.50). The cranberry tea, however, is a delicious, tangy, cranberry-filled tonic.
Sigmund is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (closed Monday), so I guess that precludes Kulchinski from serving a breakfast pretzel sandwich with bacon, egg, and cheese. Doesn't that sound seriously delicious? A fella can dream, can't he?
As far as I'm concerned, Kulchinski is on to something. Sigmund Pretzels doesn't rise to the level of soft pretzel deliciousness that Fisher Brothers does in the City of Brotherly Love. But it's a helluva lot closer.