Monday, January 22, 2018

Auntie Anne's Pretzels

Update Review, January 2018

Remember how much I raved about the sour cream & onion pretzel from Auntie Anne's last time I wrote an update review?  Yeah, I loved the thing.  I had to get another.

Sadly, it turns out the experience varies greatly based on how fresh the pretzel is, and, who makes it.
Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel. $3.99.
My previous pretzel was clearly much fresher.  It was warm for one thing.  It was soft.  It was buttery.  And it was perfectly coated in the sour cream and onion crack powder.

This one ... calling it lukewarm would be generous.  It was kinda hard and chewy.  It wasn't very buttery, to the point where I think she might have used an unbuttered one?  Either than, or the butter had soaked in long ago.

The coating was still totally addicting and delicious, but, uh, it wasn't so expertly applied.  Clumps here or there, and big chunks with none.

Sadness, as this really was amazing when fresher and made with care!

Update Review, October 2017

I didn't grow up with mall food court pretzels (well, mostly, I didn't grow up with malls, as I was in a small town in New Hampshire).  But once I discovered them, late in life, I'll admit, I was pretty addicted.  Not go-out-of-my-way-for-them addicted, but, I'm fairly incapable of walking past somewhere like Auntie Anne's Pretzels and getting one.  Soft, buttery, warm, I just love them!
Pretzel Glory.
I've reviewed Auntie Anne's before, back when they did a sampling program I was part of, but this review focused on one of Oprah's favorite things: the pretzel dog, and my recent discovery of the glorious savory pretzels.
Classic Anne's.
Like most Auntie Anne's location, the one I visited was in a mall (the Westfield in San Francisco), and had large windows where you can watch the constant pretzel production.  And smell the pretzels, glorious, glorious pretzels.
The warming area next to the register was filled with everything that was ready to go, including multiple types of pretzels, nuggets, and of course, the dogs.

If you want something that isn't there at the ready, they'll make it for you, and I heard them quote times of about 15 minutes for the folks who wanted items not already ready.
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog Packaging.
Luckily for me, on my pretzel dog craving visit, I wanted a pretzel dog, and all varieties were ready for me.  Auntie Anne's makes two sizes of pretzel dogs (regular and jumbo), all available in "original", cheese, or jalapeño & cheese.  The hot dog inside each is a Nathan's all beef frank.

Mine was handed over quickly inside a foil bag to keep it warm, and, make it easy to devour while standing.  Ketchup and mustard packets are available (standard ketchup and yellow mustard), or you can opt for one of the dips.
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog.
"A crispy three-cheese pretzel, topped with spicy jalapeño slices wrapped around a delicious Nathan’s Famous® hot dog, is a fresh look at the Pretzel Dog."

I decided to go all out, for the jalapeño & cheese version.  I've loved the plain one in the past, but, why not jazz it up?

It looked great, 4 slices of jalapeño on top, lovely cheese crusting.

The jalapeño slices were crazy spicy, so, be warned.  I guess I should have expected that, but they actually were too spicy for me, and I didn't think I was a wimp.

The cheesy top, something I thought I'd love, I ended up disliking.  The crispy crusty nature of it was nice, but, actually, I didn't want a cheesy pretzel.  I wanted to taste the buttery Auntie Anne's glorious pretzel!
Jalapeño & Cheese Pretzel Dog: Side View.
But even the pretzel, once I uncovered it from under all the cheese, didn't really live up.  It seemed like just ... warm white bread?  I loved how golden it was, how soft it was, how nice the crust on it was, but, I thought they were always more ... pretzel-y before?  And ... buttery!  I missed the butter.

The hot dog inside was certainly a classic dog.  Juicy, moist, nicely cooked, a standard beef hot dog.  I actually prefer turkey dogs, but they only offer beef.

So overall ... I was actually pretty disappointed.  The beef only dog option was to be expected, but, I really lamented not getting to enjoy a buttery soft pretzel I so wanted!
Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel. $3.99.
"Our Sour Cream & Onion Pretzel is full of nothing but flavor!! A hint of sour cream and onion are freshly baked into a warm, soft pretzel for you to savor bite by bite."

So the next week I went back.  This time, I had my eye on one thing: regular pretzels.  No more beef hot dog, no more cheese to distract me.  Except, then I saw that you could get most of the flavored pretzels for the same price as a plain regular (buttered and salted of course) pretzel.

I was torn by indecision.  I quickly ruled out the jalapeño cheese one obviously, since I didn't like that in the pretzel dog, and the pepperoni (also cheesy), but the other savory options sounded fascinating: sour cream & onion? Roasted garlic & parmesan?  I like those flavors in general, I was curious how they would translate into a pretzel, and, adding the topping seemed like it would turn it into more of a "meal", right?  And of course, the sweet ones caught my eye too: perhaps not the raisin one, or the too trendy seasonal pumpkin spice, but cinnamon sugar is always classic, and I adore the crunchy sweet almond one.  But I was there for something savory, planning to get froyo right after.

I asked the person taking my order which he preferred between sour cream & onion and roasted garlic & parmesan, as there was no line, and I assumed he'd actually tried both before.  He said the sour cream & onion was his favorite, but quickly followed up that both were good.

That was enough for me.  Sour cream & onion it was.

I didn't see any sour cream & onion pretzels ready in the warmer, but next he asked me if I wanted it salted and if I wanted butter.  I said yes to both, thinking that those things are obviously what make pretzels delicious (although I expected the topping to be kinda salty too), and was surprised when he grabbed the regular buttered, salted pretzel from the warmer.  He disappeared around a corner, and quickly came back, sour cream & onion-ified pretzel in hand.

Aha!  For pretzels where the variety is just a coating, not a baked in/on topping (pepperoni, jalapeño, raisins, etc are obviously different pretzel bases), they just coat it after the fact.  And coat it they do.

Can you even see the pretzel under its newfound jacket of sour cream and onion coating?  I was a bit worried I made a horrible decision, as it looked impossible to scrape off or avoid if I didn't like it, and it certainly wasn't going to be mild, but my fears vanished as I took a bite.

Oh wow that was good.  Very, very good.

And salty.  The original pretzel has 400 mg of sodium just in the base pretzel, and if you get a standard one with salt that is 990 mg.  These beauties?  Yup, 1240 mg or, uh, 52% of your daily recommended intake.  Bring water.

Imagine the awesomeness that is sour cream and onion chips.  In particular, think about the build up on your fingers after eating a bag, that you know you want to lick.  This pretzel was coated in that.  Absolutely coated.  It was salty, it was vaguely onion-y (in a green onion sense), and perhaps a bit sour creamy (in a slightly tangy way).  That coating was magic.  So very good.  What it was made from?  I have no idea.  They don't provide ingredient info (and probably better to not know, if it is anything like the addicting garlic sauce from Papa John's!)

The pretzel itself was also exactly what I remembered from Auntie Anne's of past visits: it was soft, slightly dough inside, super buttery, and just a wonderful base for the flavorful coating.  Seriously, why eat flavored chips when you can eat flavored soft pretzels?

I thought I might want a dip, and brought fancy mustard with me, and although I did use some, it absolutely didn't need it.  This thing was glorious on its own.  I intended to share at least a few bites with a friend who was waiting for me in the food court downstairs, but, uh, I hoarded this.  Too good to share.

And yes, that coating got all over my fingers, in a far worse way than a bag of chips did.  And you know I licked every last bit off.  Did I mention, so very good?

I'd gladly get another, although I'd leave off the standard large rock salt, it is really not necessary with the sour cream & onion coating.

Original Review, November 2012

Mmm, soft pretzels.  Whenever I walk by Auntie Anne's inside the Westfield mall, the aroma of buttery pretzel is always so appealing.  Then I see the lines.  And then I remember that it was the dipping sauces that I always loved anyway.  And then I see Yoppi across the way, and beeline it for some froyo.

But, Auntie Anne's ran a promotion for the past 6 weeks, called "Sampling Saturdays", where they offered up samples of some signature item all day.  There was also a contest to win a trip, a code you could text message them to be entered in drawings, and scratch cards with instant winnings involved.  But the samples, that is clearly what I was there for!

The first few times, I went to the Westfield location, but it was too annoying to be worth it.  The lines were long, the staff weren't friendly, and they seemed to never actually be participating in Sampling Saturdays.  "Come back in 10 minutes" or "Not now" was the common response I got.  Then, I was in Macy's on a Saturday, and saw that there is a Auntie Anne's location there as well.  With no lines.  And pleasant staff.  On most times, they had the samples out and ready to go, and on the rare cases when they didn't, and I asked about Sampling Saturdays, they prepared them right there on the spot, super fresh and hot.  And when they didn't have any of the item available that they were supposed to be sampling, they offered me something else instead.  Such radically different service at both locations!

Anyway, for the most part, the pretzels were exactly what I remembered from the few times I had them as a child.  Warm, soft, buttery, and decent.  Not something you want to go out of your way for, but they can hit the spot.  If only they'd featured the dipping sauces for a Sampling Saturday!
Salted Pretzel Nugget.
This is the bite size version of their signature pretzel, served as a container full of little nuggets.  They are coated with butter and salt.  Soft, nice chew , lots of butter, nice big flakes of salt with good flavor.

Notes from previous tastings: Buttery, soft, salty, kinda delicious.
Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel Nugget.
And another version of the nuggets, these are rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and are slightly larger.  There was a serious amount of cinnamon and sugar coating on these, that was sweet and tasty, but totally overwhelming.  I had no idea I was eating a pretzel rather than a donut hole.  A sweet little treat, but not particularly good.  Would not order.

Notes from previous tastings: Not flavorful enough, buttery, meh  [ Not very good, lots of cinnamon and sugar though. ] [ Soft, buttery, tons of cinnamon and sugar. ]  [ Not very good.  Not buttery, not flavorful, and just tons of the cinnamon and sugar.  I love cinnamon and sugar rolled donut holes, so I thought this would be good, but it just wasn't. ]
Almond Pretzel.
This is a regular butter pretzel, which is then rolled in toasted almond pieces.  It was warm, soft, buttery, and quite delicious.  The almond pieces added a really nice crunch, and some good flavor.  It also seemed like there was some sugar on here, as the exterior seemed caramelized.  Maybe it was just tons of butter.  My favorite of the pretzels!

Notes from previous tastings: Buttery, almonds add a good crunch.  Would get again.  [ Nice crunchy almonds on outside, buttery, pretzel itself kinda meh though. ]
Pretzel Dog.
A Nathan's hot dog, wrapped in pretzel.  The full size version is a ridiculous long jumbo dog.  It was really quite good.  The hot dog was moist and juicy, the pretzel hot and buttery.  I'd like to have some ketchup and mustard with it, but the buttery pretzel added plenty of flavor.  I was pretty surprised by how tasty this was, and assumed that I might have enjoyed it only because I was hungry, but I had one another time, and liked it just as much.  Hmm.

Notes from other tastings: This was really surprisingly good!  The hot dog was juicy and plump.  The pretzel was warm, hot, puffy, and buttery.  It all went together well.  So strange that I like these, but I do!

I've also tried the mini pretzel dog bites, which have tiny little mini hots inside, basically, pigs-in-a-blanket, made with pretzel as the wrapper.  Easily snackable, and just as good as the full size with a juicy little hot dog bite inside, and fluffy, buttery, delicious pretzel outside.
Honey Whole Grain.
This is their newest offering, I think an attempt to be slightly healthier, with "whole grains".  It certainly looked different from the standard pretzels, with a darker color.  It also did indeed taste heartier.  I didn't get any sweetness from the "honey" but I did like the more developed flavor.  It was also nicely buttery and coated in large flakes of salt.  Warm, chewy, salty ... not bad!
Strawberry Lemonade Mixer.
This was fairly refreshing, tart and sweet.  Not bad for a strawberry lemonade.
Wild Cherry Lemonade Mixer.
Not very good, particularly compared with the strawberry.  It was just sweet.  No tartness.  Did not like.
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