Forget the pretzels that are overshadowed in grocery store aisles by Lays, Doritos, and Tostitos. Grow up in New York City and you think real pretzels are available at two locations – hot dog stands and professional sporting events. Nowadays, “the every neighborhood gets a biergarten” craze means there is a third option.
Yet the truth about pretzels remains. More often than not they are underwhelming. Overpriced and over-salted, they can only be what I imagine are a bastardization of their German forbearers.
That is what makes Schnitz, located in the East Village after starting as a Smorgasburg stand, so refreshing. Free of sprinkled salt, this sandwich shop replaces the bread with traditional roll, and it quickly has became one of my favorite spots.
It took my last visit, earlier this month to stumble upon the title for this post and the first of several reasons I keep going back. And it came from my friend Luke who said as he tried the Bamberg for the first time, “It’s all about the bread.”
It is…and yet it isn’t. The pretzel bread is soft and chewy and has a warmth to it that gives the sandwich an extra oomph over other options in the area.
Schnitz’s sandwich menu provides something for everyone – meat-eater, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan alike. Between me and two of my friends, we tried six different types of Schnitz sandwiches. And New York was on the point. The Bamberg is the best sandwich on the menu.
The Bamberg is a chicken schnitzel sandwich that has pickled cucumbers, daikon, ginger and shallots, and caramelized Dijon mustard. Lets work our way up. I’m a man who loves me some Dijon mustard on what others would consider random things. I’ll put it on steak. If I think it won’t make something worse, I’ll go Portlandia on it: put mustard on it. This Dijon is sharp, zippy, and well apportioned given how much chicken is provided. And it is a lot. The hot, breaded chicken and the Dijon mustard alone would be good. It is the vegetables – the vegetables that push the sandwich over the line. pickled cucumbers plus spicy mustard plus breaded chicken equal one of the best sandwiches I’ve had so far.
A recent try was the Sweet Onion. Same chicken but with pickled cabbage, jicama, raddish and cilantro with a roasted beet tzatziki. Having already tried the jicama slaw which is one of their best sides and having enjoyed their previously pickled veggies, the Sweet Onion did not disappoint. It is slightly less memorable than the Bamberg because it is not zippy, but it is still a worthy alternate.
One of my friends is also a strong proponent of the Grumpy Russian. With pork loin schnitzel, greens, pickled cherries, and gorgonzola spread, whenever Schnitz makes an appearance on Seamless which is surprisingly hit or miss for what should be a streamlined site, she will usually go Grumpy and wants me to let you know she recommends it to one and all.
The one pork schnitzel I tried was the Pork Belly and the difference in quantity between the chicken and pork is quickly apparently. Where the chicken schnitz options are pieces of meat longer than the pretzel bread, the pork belly shnitzel was thin and seemed less generous (though it is pork belly) than the Bamberg’s portions. Still tasty, but it could be one of those cases where judging a sandwich by eye against another one makes you irrationally think less of it.
Maybe I should have expected this. You know, most people don’t think pretzel and shrimp. But, when I ordered the Lt. Dan (well played), I expected I would get the same type of bread the other sandwiches had come in – a pretzel hero roll. The Lt. Dan comes in a bun that is well-buttered and the breaded shrimp cake and lemon-grass mayo are a smart combo, but I was disappointed. I was envisioning some sort of bread battered shrimp in a pretzel hero roll. Instead, it is a very good sandwich and I’m left wondering what the pretzel hero shrimp treatment at Schnitz could be like.
The only sandwich that does not work is the Buffalo Chicken. The bread is solid, the chicken is fine, and the buffalo sauce is sufficiently buffalo-y. The wheels come off with the toppings. Buffalo chicken wings or tenders traditionally come with carrots and celery on the side. Unlike any other buffalo chicken sandwich or wrap I’ve had, Schnitz goes and puts diced celery and carrots as sandwich toppings. In theory, it seems like a new way to hue towards tradition. In reality, it underwhelms and sinks the sandwich. It is funny that the Buffalo Chicken, while listed at their in-person menu and on Seamless, is nowhere to be found on their website.
Like the sandwiches, most of the sides exceed expectations. In particularly, the french fries with sage, parsley, and chili flakes and the black kale salad where chunks of pretzel fill in for the croutons are stand outs. One that I loved and recommend but recognize could be hit or miss for others is the jicama cole slaw. With no mayo in play, the vegetables are at the forefront and they make for a winning side.
Maybe it is because I am a fried pickle snob, but Schnitz’s fried pickles are hopefully a work in progress. As a new item, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but the batter is too puffy and the pickles taste pretty flat. As something new, my hope is that they are tweaking it and consider the fried pickles to be a work in progress. I support any place that puts it on their menu and keeps looking for ways to make it as strong as possible.
The only side I would direct you away from completely is the roasted cauliflower. It is one note and a disappointing note. Even with maldon sea salt, the drizzled cumin seed oil dominates the vegetable and falls short of the other options.
There is something charming about Schnitz. From the photocopied handwritten note in the last Seamless delivery from the two founders thanking us for ordering but suggesting we visit the brick and mortar location to the fact that on my first in-person visit last year, the person taking my order kept asking if I wanted to try something else and how I add different sauces.
But then, on my last visit, as my buddy Luke and I were finishing up our sandwiches, the dude who took our order brought out a chocolate banana desert with berries drizzled over. It was a hot dessert that was surprisingly good! Beyond the deliciousness of the desert was the much appreciated randomness of the restaurant equivalent of the bar buyback.
Schnitz is a place that aims to please, and more often than not, does more than just that.