A couple weeks ago, a nice young lady named Elise asked if I’d ever tried Ben’s Soft Pretzels. I hadn’t. She told me they’d opened a bakery inside the Sarasota Walmart at Lockwood Ridge and University, and then sent me a gift card to try them out.
I was asking myself when I’d find the opportunity to drive from the home we’re renovating on Casey Key all the way up to University Parkway, a 45-minute drive one way, for a pretzel. But being a Realtor I knew I’d probably be in the area soon.
Since that time I’ve seen Ben’s Soft Pretzels featured on The Suncoast View, which plays weekdays on Channel 7, our local ABC affiliate. I’d also gotten a few comments from fellow foodies that their Amish-Inspired Jumbo Pretzels were the “real deal” and worth a visit. So I started to anticipate Ben’s Soft Pretzels with so much zeal that I made the 50 mile round trip . . . without having any other reason to be in that area of town.
Recognizing that we have never reviewed food from a food court or inside a Walmart, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was exactly the style of small bakery that would function well inside a big box store, complete with a line of people waiting for fresh, hot pretzels, Pretzel Dogs, and Pretzel Stixs. They even offer bite-sized Buggy Bites served in a cup. Guests can choose from one of their eleven gourmet dipping sauces, including an Amish Sweet Mustard and Vanilla Icing, made in-house, perfect for the Buggy Bites.
Taking my place in line, I was afforded the chance to see the pretzels and pretzel dogs being made. The dough is preservative-free and each pretzel is hand-rolled on site. The dough is yeast-risen, so its aroma is reminiscent of hot bread! (Heaven!) I also saw a ‘take-home’ kit that allowed me the opportunity to try my hand at being a pretzel baker! Sold! (Photos of my homemade pretzels will be at the end of this blog.)
I ordered a Jumbo Soft Pretzel and a Pretzel Dog, intending to take it home and share with Mart. Let me tell you, that was a test of willpower. The smell of hot, fresh pretzel was so enticing. I don’t know how I did it. . . honestly . . . I was so tempted to pull over, devour both and hope Mart would be none the wiser. But I had this blog to write, so . . .
The Pretzel Dog was a huge hit with Mart, who kindly shared a bite with me. (One bite?!!! After I spent 1 1/2 hours in the car to pick it up?!) Featuring a thick, All-Beef Frank wrapped with a slice of Swiss Cheese, then rolled in fresh pretzel dough, this was not your average pigs-in-a-blanket. Dipped into spicy mustard, it was a filling lunch for anyone on the go . . . or Mart, in this case!
The Pretzel Dog consumed, the two of us tore into the still warm Jumbo Pretzel. This puppy is twice as large as most soft pretzels you’ve seen, and the texture is like a soft bun. Dusted ever so lightly with imported German Salt, the pretzel tasted every bit as good as it smelled. I wish technology allowed for scratch and sniff blog photography. You’d thank me for it!
I missed trying the Pretzel Pockets, which were placed in the hot box soon after coming from the oven. There are three varieties: Italian, Meatball and Ham & Cheese. I saw another guest pick up a Ham & Cheese and I was tempted to snag the gooey strings of cheese stretched from his Pretzel Pocket all the way to his smiling, chewing mouth. There’s even a Jalapeno Cheese Jumbo Soft Pretzel on the menu! If you order the classic Jumbo Pretzel you can customize your pretzel at their Bake & Shake Counter where five different toppings are available to mix and match to your taste.
A couple days later I tried to recreate the Ben’s Soft Pretzels experience with their Take Home Kit, consisting of all the ingredients you need to make over a dozen, large hot pretzels at home, including course German Pretzel Salt and cinnamon-sugar, so you can make either classic or sweet pretzels.
I have to say, making pretzels at home couldn’t have been easier, and I was pretty proud of myself with the results. While I made a dozen pretzels, mostly large, you could make them smaller for a greater yield, or save some of the dough to make your own Pretzel Pockets or Pretzel Dog. All I know is that amazing aroma that challenged me to drive all the way home without tearing into a pretzel, was now in my home.
Mart and my brother Shawn both loved them so much, I decided to take 6 of them to the office the next day. Now I didn’t tell my colleagues they were made from a kit, at least not until I’d been complimented so many times I had to confess. Seriously, next time I have a large gathering at my home, like a Super Bowl Party, reunion, family gathering, you name it — I’ll be sure to pick up another Take Home Kit from Ben’s Soft Pretzels!
Just so you know . . . National Pretzel Day is April 26th! You owe it to yourself to celebrate such an auspicious holiday with a trip to Ben’s Soft Pretzels. Trust me, it’s worth the drive!
And remember — Have a Pretzel Day!