Suburban pretzels a new twist at the ballpark

The beer was cold, the Phillies played tough and the fans even staged a first-class fistfight in the cheap seats.

A perfect day at the ballpark – except for some growing discontent over . . . the pretzels!

OK, this is not on the order of cheating fans out of a full cup of beer. But it turns out that the Vet’s new, authentic Philadelphia soft pretzels aren’t really Philly after all.

The twisters – introduced with considerable fanfare last week as part of the concessionaire’s so-called Local Flavors program – are made by a New Jersey company in Montgomery County.

These foreigners aren’t the same brick-oven delights generations of Philadelphians have chewed since their invention 75 years ago.

Among other things, they’re rounder.

At first, stadium concessionaire Ogden Entertainment claimed the pretzels were made by a company called Philadelphia Baking Co. That company, however, does not make pretzels. It bakes bread and has no connection with the Vet.

The new pretzels – available in two locations on the 200 and 500 Level Food Courts – are made by J&J Snack Foods of Pennsauken, N.J.

That’s the same company that mass-produces those foul-tasting, $3 frozen Super Pretzels that have blitzed ballpark tongues and wallets in recent years.

Local pretzel makers and one City Council member are up in arms.

“I can’t understand why a Philadelphia soft pretzel can’t be made in Philadelphia,” said Councilman Jim Kenney.

It was Kenney, upset over Daily News reports of short-poured beers and stiff prices, who helped persuade Ogden to broaden its selection of food and drop beer prices.

“I’m very happy that Ogden has made this move towards a more fan-friendly and affordable selection of ballpark food,” he said. “But I think they missed the boat on the pretzels.”

Joe Sidorick, president of Philadelphia Soft Pretzels Inc. on N. 3rd Street, said he would have been happy to supply the stadium with his brand.

“I’ve been a season ticketholder for 25 years, and this just adds salt to the wound,” Sidorick said when he learned a suburban company was producing pretzels for the city-owned stadium.

“The Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia pretzels – it just doesn’t make sense to go to a South Jersey company for a machine-made pretzel,” he said.

Ogden general manager Brian Hastings said the company had spoken with South Philadelphia’s Federal Pretzel Co. about supplying the Vet. But he said it opted to go with J&J instead when the Jersey company vowed it could bake “a quality product.”

Though its Super Pretzels are made by machines, the ballpark’s Original Philadelphia Soft Pretzel is handmade, according to Robert Radano, a J&J exec.

“They’re hand-twisted and baked fresh,” Radano said.

He said they’re produced at J&J’s plant in Hatfield and brought to the stadium daily, where they’re warmed in small ovens.

The one Joe Sixpack sampled yesterday was fresh and sorta OK. It was rounder than the standard street-corner pretzel and not quite so chewy.

At three for $2, though, it’s one of the best bargains at the ballpark.

But it’s not really a Philadelphia soft pretzel.

The ones I grew up on are squeeshed together in rows of 10. Their brown brick-oven, almost-burnt crusts are so hard, you break a sweat trying to rip ’em apart before you spread the mustard.

Radano said protesting his pretzel’s non-Philadelphia origin is splitting hairs:

“We are a Philadelphia-area company. We’ve been here for 27 years. “We supply pretzels to a lot of the schools. We’re a member of the Chamber of Commerce. We were selected by the mayor to make an elephant pretzel for the Republican Convention.”

A GOP elephant pretzel? In Philadelphia?

Case closed.

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