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Hanging disappointment.

Image: Cory Garcia

Unfortunately, the quotation marks in the title of this post are not in error.

First, a disclosure. I am ardent Kroger enthusiast. I love the fact that they regularly discount otherwise very expensive gourmet cheeses (e.g., 50 percent of Epoisses!) and carry an insanely diverse selection of candy and special edition foods for every holiday on the calendar. And while occasionally they miss the mark (see their macarons), Kroger more often than not delivers when it comes to the quality of its products.

But unfortunately, all the personal bias in the world can’t bring me to say much positive about a most recent addition to their line of bakery goods: soft pretzels. I spotted the pretzels (available in Barvarian salted, Barvarian unsalted, and cinnamon crunch) upon a recent trip to the Kroger on Buffalo Speedway and immediately admired how they were arranged by flavor on long rods akin to how I have seen them displayed at beer halls in Germany.

Someone did their research, I thought, and sent out a mental pat on the back to the universe to whomever that someone was. Since the pretzels were priced at 99 cents each, I was sorely tempted to try all three varieties, but in the spirit of restraint, I settled for sampling just the standard salted. I covered my hand with one of the small plastic bags on offer and reached into the case to take a pretzel. The first I touched felt a bit stiff. Undeterred, I reminded myself that’s why one grabs with a bag (or gloves or paper): if you happen upon a dud at first go, you can try for another without worrying that you’re sullying the reject with whatever germs are on your paws. I palpated the second pretzel in line and it was even harder. Hoping for a Goldilocks scenario, I grabbed a third pretzel, which seemed, I thought softer, maybe?

Unfortunately, the third one was not just right. The pretzel’s consistency resembled that of a stale, undercooked breadstick: tough, chewy, and demanding aggressive unpleasant mastication. After two bites, I felt like I had packed my mouth full of Bubble Yum and my jaw started to ache. Furthermore, even if the texture had been on point, the flavor wasn’t. Missing was the signature malty, slightly sour yeasty notes, which, when present, are well complemented by large flakes of salt.  Essentially, it was plain dough twisted into shape to masquerade as a pretzel: the epitome of baking laziness.

Kroger, I know you can do better. In the meantime, I’m on the hunt for better soft pretzels in Houston to take the bad taste out of my mouth. Suggestions welcome.

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