Standing Room Only: Hannah's Bretzel

"The Bretzel is the better, fresher relative of the pretzel."

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Black Forest ham with swiss Gruyère on a breztel baguette. [Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Hannah's Bretzel

180 W. Washington Street, Chicago IL 60602 (map); 312-621-1111‎
The Short Order: Perfectly proportioned sandwich on "bretzel" baguettes.
Want Fries with That? Pick a bag of chips or roasted vegetables.
Want Ketchup? Maybe just a bar of chocolate for desert.

Much like Manhattan's Midtown, Chicago's Loop is a wasteland of chains, overpriced diners, and endless buffet lines. Unlike Midtown, there are no street carts to break up the sterilized environment. While the hilarious Oasis Cafe, hidden in the back of a jewelry store, is good, it's not a stand—but Hannah's Bretzel is.

With only four stools near the front window, it's perpetually filled with people wearing much nicer suits than I could ever afford. That means you have to eat at your desk, or at the neighboring Au Bon Pain like a criminal (for the record I bought an apple juice).

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Hannah's Bretzel is a mini-chain (two locations right now) in the Chicago area that serves high-quality sandwiches with a focus on whole grains and organic ingredients. At first, I wanted to hate the place. Their slogan is "Über Sandwich Makers" and they claim to have been open since 1477. Judging by their interior design usually, they looked overpriced and boring.

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But how could you hate the Black Forest ham with swiss Gruyère on the breztel baguette? The ham is rich and darkly colored, much like prosciutto, and the baguette is soft and slightly sour. It gets a strong smear of coarse-mustard and just a few slices of cucumber to add some crunch. Clean, simple, and perfectly proportioned, the sandwich is so much more flavorful than it should be.

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I suppose I should take back every bad word I've ever uttered about the place. It turns out the German inflections on the menu are from the real-deal German owner, Florian Pfahler. And the dubious date on the signs? Just the year the bretzel roll was invented in southern Germany.

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The bretzel is a wonder. All of them are freshly baked in the back kitchen. I can't be the only one who had never heard of the bread before. According to Hannah's Bretzel's website: "The Bretzel is the better, fresher relative of the pretzel."

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All the sandwiches are served with chips (pretty good), roasted almonds, soy nuts, or roasted vegetables.

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The only miss of the day was the NY Sirloin sandwich. While it uses some top-quality beef, the farmer's baguette is thicker and denser than the bretzel. Rule of thumb here: always get the bretzel.

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Have I mentioned the sweets? One side of the shop is lined with a wall of chocolate bars—with no Hershey in sight—and baked goods offered to-go. I haven't had time to sample them yet, but considering my options in the area, I'll definitely be back.