Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gus' Pretzels

It's started to get cold here at last after a long fall. We had our first day where the temperature did not break freezing on Friday. Yesterday we paid a visit to the Soulard Market for the first time. Soulard is an older neighborhood between McKinnley Heights where we live and the Mississippi River. The river bank there is covered by the giant Anheuser Busch brewery. The market is in a large old brick building shaped like the letter “H” with the ends being long open sheds and the smaller center enclosed (and heated). The most of the vendors have permanent locations with signs and tables. Some have elaborate small stores that appear to have been there a very long time. A butcher shop, a pastry shop and, surprisingly, a pet store all appeared to be permanent. At this time of year fresh local produce was scarce – we did see one organic farmer with some nice root vegetables and a wild mushroom vendor with an amazing array of oyster mushrooms and chantrelles. There were several poultry vendors doing a brisk business, even live geese were on offer. We shared a warm flaky croissant and moved on.

St. Louis is rich in coffee shops, many of which roast their own beans. We had tried two nearby, Park Avenue Coffee and Mississippi Mud, the latter our favorite. Yesterday we tried the Benton Park Cafe for breakfast. It's a bit more polished and therefore a bit more sterile, but the coffee and food are very good. Where we sat looking out on Lemp Street, we had a good view of Gus' Pretzels directly opposite.

Now, I personally never have been a big fan of soft pretzels. I worked for two days in a pretzel factory in my home town back in the early 70s and have had an aversion to twisted dough ever since. As we watched, car after car pulled up to Gus'. A steady stream of customers emerged with small brown bags and sometimes a soda. Remember, this is 9:30 on a Saturday morning. Who were these pretzel fanatics? What is it about Gus'?

We had to find out. We finished breakfast and crossed the street.

Gus' is a plain brick rectangle on the corner of Lemp and Arsenal Streets with a black and white pretzel flag flying out front just below old glory. It's about 2 long blocks from the Budweiser plant. Inside there is a line at a counter with a menu board. $1.50 for three “twists or sticks.” Beside the line there are long windows into the pretzel making room. At one end a machine spits out little clumps of dough that are caught by rollers and emerge as raw pretzel sticks. A steaming water bath is bobbing with raw pretzels. There's a guy throwing salt onto trays of wet pretzels before they go into the oven. A giant mixer churns up a new batch of dough. About half a dozen workers tend this process. One guy is even hand rolling a really big speciality pretzel in the form of some letters. Another guy was making “pretzel sandwiches” which turns out to be a hot dog or bratwurst completely encased in pretzel dough.

There are old photographs, too. The original Gus holding a kid in front of the oven with a big pile of pretzels in the foreground is my favorite. Now, if you are a pretzel fan, or if you are of German heritage, do yourself a favor and check out Gus' website at

If, like me, you don't really like pretzels, just look at the pictures attached.

Wednesday we are heading back to CNY for Thanksgiving. We hope to see quite a few of our good friends then.

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