Philly-Style Pretzels at The Pretzel Bakery in D.C.


A fresh batch of pretzels on the cooling tray. [Photographs: Brian Oh]

The first time we see Michael Scott visit the Dunder Mifflin corporate offices in New York he tells the camera about his favorite New York pizza joint and, in true oafish, oblivious Michael Scott fashion, proceeds to run in to a Sbarro.

I'm not that guy. You're not that guy. Nobody reading Serious Eats would ever utter the name Sbarro in a discussion about good pizza. In the pretzel world, the appropriate corollary would be Auntie Anne's. Both are edible, but serve the same purpose: a mass produced last resort. It's mall food.

For pizza, pretzels, and most other things, the product is greatly served by care and attention and that's exactly what The Pretzel Bakery owner Sean Haney brings with his small neighborhood shop in Washington, D.C. For those that haven't had many quality pretzels, one bite from The Pretzel Bakery and you'll never look at Auntie Anne's the same way again.

Haney does one thing and one thing only: make pretzels. Having grown up in Philadelphia, where pretzels have long since usurped the throne of dominant breakfast food from bagels, he became increasingly unsatisfied with the lack of quality pretzel shops since moving to D.C. in 1998. After years of perfecting his Pennsylvania Dutch style recipe, he now spends his days making fresh batches of hand-rolled pretzels.

What separates Haney's pretzels from the mall variety is that he doesn't slather the dough with butter before baking to brown them. Instead, Haney boils his dough briefly which maintains the chewy, but delicate texture and preserves the flavor. Each pretzel is pillowy and lightly salted and, since he makes small batches throughout the day, they're likely to be hot and fresh out of the oven. A single pretzel is $2 or you can get 3 for $5 and 12 for $18.


Owner Sean Haney transferring a fresh batch to a cooling tray.

To go with the pretzels, Haney offers a small selection of mustards. Most notable of which is the golden spicy-brown mustard, another holdover from his childhood in Philly. The spicy mustard adds just enough kick to complement the salt. To wash it down, grab a Boylan's soda, a Mexican Coke, or another Philly import: a Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak. Mostly available only in Philadelphia, Haney's own father has to drive down cases of the soda to supply the shop.


Owner Sean Haney manning the Dutch door and The Pretzel Bakery's menu board.

The single room bakery is located in a neighborhood just off Capitol Hill and serves out of a charming Dutch door. Haney shares the block with an elementary school and a daycare center and walking up from the sidewalk feels like calling on a neighbor to borrow an egg. Haney plans to introduce an Everything Pretzel in the fall.

It's best to plan ahead for your visits though. The rush of after school and work business often depletes the dough supply before closing at 7pm. Follow @PretzelBakery to make sure you don't show up for a disappointment.

The Pretzel Bakery is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm and is cash only.

The Pretzel Bakery 340 15th Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003 (map) 202-251-0953;