Imagine an early morning in a small German town. As you walk into the main square, you approach the local bakery to see what’s just come out of the oven.
You know the baker well and don’t need to worry about quality or the source of ingredients, you trust him as you’d trust a doctor. Some days he prescribes a soft Italian style loaf, or a dark rye sourdough, others it’s hearty whole wheat or still warm muffins.
Today, it’s a traditional German pretzel roll and we’re not in Germany but in the heart of Brooklyn. Christian Matthäus owns and runs Madhouse Bakery – as lean a baking operation as you’ll see anywhere, with every loaf pulled from a small convection oven behind the counter.
“I grew up in the Baden region, Southwestern Germany,” says Matthäus, “where there is a rich pretzel culture – at madhouse we try to live up to that tradition. We shape them into buns, so that they can be used as sandwiches or paired with German bratwurst (pork sausage).”
Christian works the oven as well as his customers, always with a warm smile and a friendly suggestion. For me, he recommends a just-made pretzel roll with the bratwurst. The bratwurst, says Matthäus, is from “ Schaller & Weber - possibly the best German butcher in the US, and a Yorkville (formerly a German enclave) institution since 1937.”
The pretzel has a storied history, says Christian:
[The] first mentions of pretzels appeared about 1,000 AD. It is rumored that the shape came about when a baker that committed a crime was sentenced for execution. He was given one last chance to save his life, by baking something through which the sun could shine three times, and he invented the now familiar shape. Legend also has it that the attack of the Turks on Vienna was thwarted by pretzel bakers on their way to the bakery early in the morning. The shape of the pretzel has been on baker’s guild symbols all throughout Germany.
A light coating of mustard is all that’s needed on this simple sandwhich, a seriously amped of version of a classic New York hot dog. The wurst is quite snappy, which expertly compliments the spongy texture of the roll.
For now, DeKalb Market is the only place to find Madhouse. “DeKalb Market is a great place to launch a start-up food business, while keeping overhead low and testing various products,” Christian says, “we see it as a laboratory for business ideas and hope it will launch a successful permanent bakery in the future.”