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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits developed the CS3 Club for the pretzel buns the local restaurant has been using for more than three years. Pretzel buns are increasing in popularity, and can even be found on store shelves for use at home.

Pretzel rolls: Buns with a twist

Pretzel rolls popular from local haunts to fast food chains

Kessler

When Donna Kessler first saw one of the TV ads for fast-food outlet Wendy’s new hamburger on a pretzel bun she had to laugh.

That’s because the Fort Wayne owner of Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits introduced a burger on a pretzel bun more than three years ago – one, by the way, that still sells well to many happy customers, she says.

“I was sitting there in my house on the couch laughing, and my husband said, ‘Hey, they stole your idea,’ ” Kessler says. “It’s kind of our signature item.”

Yes, any eatery worth its salt seems to be rolling out a sandwich on a pretzel bun these days, as soft, chewy, artisan-like pretzel rolls go mainstream.

The Black Dog Pub, 6230 Covington Road, also serves its burgers on pretzel buns – the special bun adds 50 cents to the price of the sandwich.

Last month, Ruby Tuesday launched a line of four gourmet burgers on pretzel buns. Dunkin Donuts now serves a roast beef sandwich on a pretzel bun and Sonic has a hot dog on one.

At Steak ‘n Shake, the Oktoberfest Burger tops two flattened burgers with Swiss cheese, mustard-sautéed onions and Black Forest ham on a pretzel bun in a limited-time offer from last year making an encore. Red Robin’s same-named limited-time burger adds lettuce to the other ingredients. And in Fort Wayne, the Great American Spice Company’s blog at www.americanspice.com has a recipe for homemade pretzel bread that uses its pretzel salt, company manager Phil Eisaman says. Aunt Millie’s has rolled pretzel buns into local Meijer stores in the past three weeks, marketing manager Melissa Koeneman says.

“We found there was a need in the market,” she says. “We had people calling and asking, ‘Why aren’t you people making pretzel buns?’ ”

Brian Miller, owner of Miller’s Bakery in Milwaukee that added the Pretzilla brand of pretzel buns a couple of years back, isn’t surprised.

“Americans just have a positive association with pretzels,” he says, noting the brand, sold regionally and online has fed “a couple hundred percent increase in revenue” to the baker formerly best known for Jewish rye bread.

The buns bring back memories of ballparks and picnics, county fairs and movie nights, Miller says. “People love pretzels. What’s not to like about a pretzel?”

Auntie Anne’s, the soft-pretzel baker with two sites in Glenbrook Square, found that out 25 years ago. The company has been using a pretzel as a bun since 2004, says Carl Hornberger, director of menu management.

Auntie Anne’s sells a $3 pretzel dog, which wraps a Nathan’s Famous all-beef hot dog in pretzel dough. Cheese sauce for dipping is extra.

“We think it’s great,” Hornberger says of the current craze. “As you know, we’ve been fans of pretzels for some time. Any time we can get people thinking about pretzels, it’s a good thing.”

Recently, mini-dogs joined Auntie Anne’s menu, and the company also has introduced kits that allow making pretzels – and pretzel dogs – at home. The kits are sold at outlets and online at AuntieAnnes.com.

Sandwich prognosticators – yes, there are people who track such trends – say it only proves they were right last year when www.burgerbusiness.com declared 2013 “The Year of the Bun.”

“Focusing on buns is an opportunity to expand customer customization choices … and direct attention to the ‘better bun’ if that ‘better burger’ needs to shrink a mite due to higher meat prices,” the site says.

The site says more flatbreads, wraps, whole-grain buns, sourdough rolls and so on are part of the warming bun trend.

Kessler says she landed on pretzel buns made by Texas Twist when creating her restaurant’s specialty burgers. “I wanted a bun that would hold up because I hate it when I get a soggy bun,” she explains. “I looked at a Kaiser roll, but I thought it was too bready.

“The pretzel buns – I thought some were too tall and some were too dense. We settled on this one because it was perfect. It was different from what anybody else had, and it would hold up to a third-pound burger.”

Not that the sandwiches were an easy sell at first.

“When we first started, people would ask if we had a regular hamburger bun,” Kessler says. “I’d say, ‘Try the pretzel bun. If you don’t like it, we can make you something else.’ They were a little leery, but once they tried them, they were in love with them.”

CS3, as regular customers sometimes call the place, now offers a CS3 Club – grilled ham and turkey with bacon, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard on a pretzel bun. The sandwich, Kessler says, was developed especially for the bun.

“I think they have a really great flavor,” she says. “They’re not too pretzel-y and thick, and they’re not chewy. They’re kind of crunchy on the outside. They don’t overwhelm what you’re eating – they work well to complement the sandwich and not overpower it.

“Now, we don’t carry any other kind of buns.”

rsalter@jg.net

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