Just after midnight on any given weekday on Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia, a line will start to form by the Center City Pretzel Company.
You will probably see me there. I know this line too well.
You will see me staring at my shoes and smearing my forehead’s beading sweat, lingering on the stale pre-taste of mustard and dough. Philadelphia pretzels can have an… intoxicating effect. Some reports estimate that Philadelphia consumes twelve times the national pretzel eating average. I can bear witness to this: They almost ruined my life.
Last Thursday night, I left my friend’s birthday party early just so I could eat fresh pretzels. I woke up early and biked through soupy heat so I could eat fresh pretzels. I made my carpool divert its path so I could eat fresh pretzels. I can not even count the sleepless hours, the honey mustard heart burns, the crumb-drenched pillows I have bared so I could eat fresh pretzels.
I’ve hovered with clusters of 20-somethings around stoops near the Company at 816 Washington Avenue, devouring the fleshy pretzel dough, the prizes so hot that steam rises from their pillowy insides even in the dead of summer. One night I stared into a nearby streetlamp, my cheeks packed with the sensuous yeast and flour, and reveled in the delirious sensation that seemed to combine (simultaneously) my first kiss, my first big home run, my father’s shoulder, and my childhood pet dog. I was burdened by nothing but the dripping caramel sauce sliding from my chin to my shirt-collar, to the depths of my heart.
Gluttony has a name and it is Pretzel, Soft. Her cousin, Samuel, is a fond visitor.
The yards long conveyor belt dollies out sheets upon sheets of pretzels, sold at 80 cents a pop. Usually there are just one or two people manning the operation, pulling up to a rumored 25,000 pretzels a night. Throughout the morning the factory will supply local vendors of all sorts. (They used to supply Wawa until the convenience giant started rolling its own.)
On weeknights, they open at midnight and close at noon. On Saturday mornings, if you have had a particularly late night, you can line up at 4 a.m.; or on Sundays at 6:30 a.m.
The Center City Pretzel Co. has been around for over 35 years, but they’re not immune to the times. Now they are filming a commercial to deal with the increased competition of places like the Philly Pretzel Factory which has over 150 locations around the country.
Oh, and don’t worry too much about me and my late-night snacking habit. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Weight Control Information Network, “it does not matter what time of day you eat. It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight.”
I’ve adopted that as a sort of mantra. I repeat those words over and over as my saliva dissolves the crust. You should try these pretzels. I think you will very much enjoy these pretzels. You might even let these pretzels drive you to places you have never been. Just remember to chew.