By LEEANNE GRIFFIN, Special to the Courant
The Hartford Courant
October 11, 2013
If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Plan B Burger Bar took the compliment. As pretzel buns began to appear on national chain menus throughout the country, the restaurant group — which has served a pretzel burger since its first eatery opened in 2006 —- sent out a tongue-in-cheek photo on its official Instagram account in early August.
"We had pretzel buns before they were mainstream," read the text over an image of Plan B's pretzel burger, Photoshopped with "hipster" glasses and sitting next to a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Pretzel breads and rolls are suddenly everywhere you look this year. Wendy's introduced a Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger in July, followed by a line of pretzel roll sandwiches at Dunkin' Donuts in August. Ruby Tuesday's August rollout of four pretzel burgers was accompanied by its own promotional website, funbetweenthebuns.com. Sonic Drive-In added two "pretzel dogs" to its menu this summer. Even convenience stores are getting in on the act, as 7-Eleven adds a Diablo Chicken Ranch sandwich on a "perfectly chewy" pretzel roll.
The trend is somewhat amusing to local restaurants in Connecticut, who've been serving pretzel breads for some time now. In addition to Plan B, Corey's Catsup & Mustard in Manchester has its "Auntie Laurie's" burger with housemade Blue Moon mustard and horseradish cheddar, an original from the day the restaurant opened in 2008. Down in Fairfield, The Chelsea serves its hot buttered lobster roll on a pretzel bun.
Plan B believes the pretzel proliferation is due in part to a general trend of national chains being influenced by smaller regional restaurants, said design and marketing manager Rachel Hurvitz.
"The push from local businesses like us, fighting to bring good products, has begun to make an influence on the national level," she said. "I think the pretzel bun is just another instance of 'the little guy' influencing big business trends."
Pretzel breads are on the short-term agenda for West Hartford's Hartford Baking Co., which recently expanded to a larger baking facility in Bloomfield. The move will allow for increased variety in its product line, and president Scott Kluger says the company will begin experimenting with pretzel rolls and baguettes later this year.
"I've seen the [pretzel] trend in fast food, I've seen it in high-end places, I've seen it everywhere," he said. "Everybody loves pretzels, that's why. As a trend, is it here to stay? I couldn't tell you, but once we start doing this, we'd like to continue it indefinitely."
Andrea Corazzini, owner of Whole G in New Haven, makes a variety of pretzel breads and rolls at his German-style bakery. Whole G's pretzel products are made with an authentic preparation, using a lye bath to produce the texture and glossiness that is a pretzel's trademark.
"I was curious when I saw the pretzel bun at Wendy's, " he said. "In order to be real, they have to have the lye. I don't think any of these people are using sodium hydroxide [in their recipes.]"
Whole G has been making pretzel breads since it opened in 2010, selling wholesale to restaurants and cafes along the shoreline. The business has expanded to include a new café in Branford Center, which opened in September.
It's a good time of year for pretzels to be in the limelight, says Corazzini. "Everybody goes crazy for pretzel breads during Oktoberfest...But it has become a very stable thing, year-round. My impression is that it's staying."
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