When I consider which restaurants to do critical reviews on, it's not often I consider places that fall in the fast-casual realm. Without offering a "full spectrum" dining experience (i.e. servers, wine lists, et al.), it seems as though they would never have quite enough going on to stretch out into a full-length piece. I mean, really, how long do you expect me to go on about a sandwich?
The first time I had a meal from Zwick's Pretzels was this past fall. Being focused on a labour-intensive project at the time, my body was simply in search of sustenance when a friend handed me a juicy chorizo sausage topped with pickled onions and refreshing chimichurri, tucked into a soft pretzel bun. It's funny how one day food can be simply a means to an end and then something completely different on another when you're giving it your full attention.
I paid Zwick's Pretzels a visit on a remarkably cold winter day a few weeks ago and have been thinking about it ever since.
As far as single-focus concepts in Canada (i.e. fried chicken, sandwiches, doughnuts) are concerned, this eatery – which is owned by bakers Maria
Chau and Darren Zwicker – is unique. Except for different pretzel chains that occupy mall food courts and what not, I believe Zwick's to be the only independent pretzel-centric operation in the entire country. Edmonton, you should consider yourself very lucky.
This eatery's bread and butter, so to speak, is its spectrum of homemade pretzels that they roll, twist and bake to near-perfection daily. These run the gamut from the classic butter-brushed to more artisanal types, such as roasted scallion and mozzarella, or guajillo chili and feta to dessert variations such as cinnamon sugar and milk-powder-dusted pretzels.
The same pretzel dough is used to bake all sorts of buns for their three sandwich offerings and sausages. Ranging from $4-$8, dining here feels like a steal of a deal.
In the dead of winter, the warmth from the ovens inside leaves the windows of the small space frosted practically from floor to ceiling. There's not much to the space itself except a counter, chalkboard menu and a communal table that seats six or so, but it smells intoxicating in here. The whiffs of Pretzels in-process, borscht simmering and whatever else might be happening in the kitchen is enough to bolster one's appetite from moderate to "I'll take one of everything, please."
The McZwick is a signature and represents true, sandwich perfection. A happy marriage of thick-cut roast chicken, candied bacon, gooey mozzarella and paprika aioli slightly spill out of a braided pretzel bun. It's a compact little meal, but the ingredients and layered so that every single bite is beyond enjoyable. My mouth still waters when I conjure an image of it in my mind.
With my taste buds' attention fully piqued, I move onto the "beef on a
weck"; which is a satiating variation on the beef dip theme. After unwrapping and and picking it up, a rich, salty jus happily drips from the thin layers of shaved roast beef that's topped with a punchy combination of prepared horseradish and minced onion. The warm pretzel bun is topped with crunchy caraway seeds and rock salt and has soaked up all the jus it possibly can while remarkably maintaining its composure. Unlike the McZwick, this is an unapologetically messy experience. In between bites of the sandwich and dapping my chin with napkins, I tried to remember the last time I was so happy to eat something that was such – for lack of a better descriptor – a hot mess.
Since soup always pairs well with a sandwich on a cold day, Zwick's borscht, dolloped with sour cream, also hit the spot, though not nearly as memorable as everything else coming out of the oven. With an apparently insatiable lunch hour, I begin digging into the bag of gourmet pretzels we had decided to take home for a little pre-dinner snack later in the day. Tearing chunks off the feta-and-chili-crusted pretzel rather ravenously, it seemed unlikely anything in the bag would last long.
Well, there you go. It turns out there's lots to say about something as simple as pretzels and sandwiches when they're as sublime as what they serve at Zwick's.