Knotted Up

The pretzel-dough ties that bind

The Bay Area may be the land of artisan bread, but we're currently entranced with pretzels, a baked good that knows the pleasures of being waterlogged.

A great pretzel necessitates a turn in hot water laced with an alkaline substance like lye or baking soda before a stint in an oven. The two-part cooking process guarantees a tight crumb with a burnished exterior and that singular pretzel aroma. Bonus: As a match for drinks, the pretzel has few peers.

The local soft-pretzel boom arguably began at The Monk's Kettle in the Mission, with its enormous pretzel ($8.75) with Cheddar-ale sauce. Where else to precipitate a citywide pretzel trend than at a beer house pouring more than 200 brews?

At Twenty Five Lusk, bite-size pretzels, ordered as part of a trio ($14), quartet ($19), or quintet ($23) of snacks, are spotted with pink salt and served with an ale-and-Gruyère sauce–ideal accompaniments to the lounge's smart cocktail list.

As he was planning his opening menu, Absinthe's new executive chef, Adam Keough, began brainstorming brasserie-style dishes. Pretzels, suds-friendly as they are, seemed a logical fit. They're brushed with garlic butter after baking and flanked by a Cheddar-cheese Mornay sauce made with Cabot Creamery white Cheddar and fortified with thyme ($7).

The truest sign of pretzels' golden moment: There are rumors that for Bar Tartine's forthcoming next-door expansion, baker Chad Robertson has been fine-tuning–that's right–a pretzel.