When you hear “pretzels and beer” you can’t help but think of a classic bar pretzel: a chewy loop of mahogany bread sparingly sprinkled with massive grains of salt. But when we scoured Minneapolis–St. Paul in search of the perfect Oktoberfest pretzel, we found that the same “creative-to-the-point-of-anarchy” approach that American brewers bring to beer has been replicated on the pretzel side, too. Few bakers are content just banging out a gross of standard-issue soft pretzels, preferring instead to tinker, to stuff, to alter, and to improve.
In short, we learned that there is no one single perfect pretzel for Oktoberfest—there are five.
Aki’s Breadhaus (Best Classic Pretzel)
2506 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis
Maybe it’s the fact that Joachim “Aki” Berndt is a legit German baker; maybe it’s the fact that the pretzels are coming from a bona fide bakery, rather than a restaurant; maybe it’s just the overwhelming and wonderful smell that hijacks your consciousness when you step through Aki’s front door. But for our money, you simply can’t beat the pretzel at Aki’s ($2.50), which is robustly chewy, perfectly salted, and dominated by a soft but resilient crust that is delightful from bite one all the way through the end of the pretzel.
(Bonus: You can get your hands on an Aki’s pretzel at The Growler’s Unlabeled No. 2: Oktoberfest blind tasting beer festival on September 20.)
New Bohemia (Best Giant Pretzel)
New Bohemia’s massive honkin’ pretzel dreadnought ($15) is bigger than a human head and quite a bit more satisfying. It’s a warm, doughy monster, more about the fluffy interior than the chewy exterior, but in terms of salt and browning, it falls well within pretzel norms. The accompanying pepper jack cheese has a profound and pleasant spicy kick to it that perfectly complements the pretzel itself. Eating this monster may be a 3–4 person job, but it certainly won’t taste like hard work.
Day Block Brewing Company (Best Pretzel Dipping Sauces)
1105 S Washington Ave, Minneapolis
Day Block Brewing puts a real malty and hoppy beer kick into its pretzel dipping sauces, and the effect is a double-fisted wallop of flavor. We dug the beer cheese, which has real depth of flavor and isn’t merely a movie theater-style cop-out of a dip. But we utterly loved the mustard dip, which uses so much real ground mustard that it has a horseradish-style burn and intensity. The brewery’s pleasantly chewy pretzels ($5 for one, $7 for two, $9 for three) are both good and reasonably standard-issue, but when dipped they ascend to a whole new level.
Town Hall Brewery (Best Stuffed Pretzel)
(Available at all Town Hall locations)
Let’s say that you’re the kind of person who wants your cheese-dipped pretzel to also be stuffed with cheese. (Fellow Wisconsinites, are you with me here?) Town Hall is your best bet—their house pretzel ($6) comes stuffed with silken melted cheddar and can then be dipped into an accompanying spicy queso dip. This is cheese to the power of cheese, and while the pretzel has a slightly chewy, onion-bedecked exterior that is nice in its own right, it mostly just gets out of the way and lets the dairy do its thing.
George and the Dragon (Best Pretzel Bread)
813 W 50th St, Minneapolis
The charming Celtic knot of pretzel bread that you receive at George and the Dragon tastes as good as it looks, with a dense but soft interior that is mild to the point of sweet. The bread is beautifully complemented by the homemade butter that it’s served with, and the whole situation is made yet more enjoyable by the $3 price tag. Ours hit the bar so warm that we swear it emerged right from the oven, an added bonus.