Kosher Pretzels? Philly’s Got Them!

— by Ronit Treatman

The Amish introduced the tradition of baking fresh soft pretzels to America when they immigrated from Germany in the 18th century. What started out as a reward for children who learned their prayers in European monasteries has been transformed into a kosher snack.

The proprietor of Center City Soft Pretzel in South Philadelphia, Anthony Tonelli, has put his pretzel bakery through the rigorous inspection process of the Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.

Tonelli said that the idea to make his bakery kosher came from an Israeli man who sells him flour. “Then we started getting calls from Jewish temples who wanted to order our pretzels for Hebrew school and Bnei Mitzvahs,” he said.

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Open: Monday-Friday midnight to noon; Saturday 4 a.m. to noon; Sunday 6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Address: 816 Washington Ave., Philadelphia
Phone: (215) 463-5664
Email: [email protected]

“Our pretzels are made with only three ingredients: wheat, yeast, and water,” Tonelli said. “We sprinkle salt on top if that is what the customer wants.”

Those pretzels turn out to be a superb product. Unlike many of his competitors, Tonelli uses an Old World recipe which calls for very high gluten flour. The aromatic treat rolls off the conveyor belt of a specialty oven. The crust is golden brown, flecked with salt, and the inside is dense, yeasty, and chewy. It tastes as a pretzel should, not as bread masquerading as a pretzel.

One pretzel costs 35¢, and three pretzels cost $1.00. That is much cheaper than what is offered at my neighborhood pretzel bakery, which charges 80¢ for one pretzel of similar weight, and $2.25 for three pretzels.

Tonelli admitted that he did not know anything about the laws of Kashrut before he placed his bakery under the supervision of Community Kashrus. “The most confusing aspect of it was when customers asked if our pretzels are Pas Yisroel,” he said. “We had no idea what people were asking us. The people at Community Kashrus helped explain everything to our customers.”

This has been a fruitful endeavor for Tonelli’s bakery. “Kosher caterers started ordering specialty pretzels from us,” he said. “My son hand shapes stars of David and Hebrew letters for them.”  

In the shtetl, it was traditional to smear honey over the Aleph when a child started to learn. At the nearby Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, Hebrew school students are greeted by a soft pretzel Aleph purchased from Center City Soft Pretzel.