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I was wrong about Panera

  • c

Hounds, when I was in Pittsburgh this summer, I walked into a Panera store. No, I did not try anything because I had just had breakfast. But I looked at everything very closely and was not impressed.

I also could not understand how this company could attract legitimate bakers - a group of food artists that are hard to find. Witness the fact that many "bakeries" are actually using frozen doughs for many of their so called homemade items. I thought that was what Panera was doing.

Well, a Panera opened here in Ormond Beach and my wife brought home several of their breads. I thought they were terrific. The dessert items were ok, nothing great, but the breads were very crusty and tasty. try their Asiago Bread and rolls- terrific.

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  1. I think you may have been right the first time. I tried the Panera in Sarasota. I took home some "bagels"; they didn't have the decency to put a hole in the roll. I also tried something else which was pedestrian. I don't think it was the asagio bread. However, based upon your recommendation I will try the asagio bread.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Joe


      Their "bagel" is misnamed and is really only a roll as you say. But, the cheese one is pretty good. I've had several of their loaves of bread and each was crusty and really good.

      Perhaps each store's quality varies? It shouldn't. the store here in Ormand has a good product and that's why I think you would like the sour dough rolls, loaves, etc. See what you think.

      1. re: Chuck

        I have found Panera to do better with savories than with sweets. We have tried several sweet things that looked good but had little flavor.

        One exception: the multi-flavored danish ring is good and a good deal. It's perfect if you need to bring something over to someone's house for brunch, etc.

        Also, the sandwiches are tasty and filling. Roast beef and cheddar on asiago cheese bread and the turkey/artichoke panini are two that I've enjoyed more than once.

        The bagels are definitely misnamed but are good if you just want something to gnaw on while driving.

        1. re: Bob W.

          Taste varies; that being said, Panera's is a chain -- mediocre at best on its finest day! Bread in Italy, Germany, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, France -- this is bread. In Florida, we have other things, but the bread ...

          1. re: Raycharleson

            Bob: Actually there is one bakery that I know of whose breads are the equal of most major cities. The Renaissance Bakery in North Miami Beach - Biscayne Boulevard in Roadhouse Grill shopping center.

            1. re: Chuck

              This is the info that most Hounds will fight for. Why not sooner?

            2. re: Raycharleson

              Hear hear! I've been dying to buy some sourdough bread that's actually sour, like the yummy stuff I've had in San Francisco (throughout the SF Bay Area, really). Unfortunately, all the "sourdough" I've tried here in Tampa actually originates in *Chicago* and is neither sour nor particularly good as *bread* (the texture is more like Wonder bread than the heartier stuff in SF). Even the independent bakeries don't get it right.

              1. re: aynrandgirl

                I've always heard that it's the unique humidity and cool weather in SF that helps the sour flavor develop properly. If you don't have that, it won't have the depth of flavor. That could be an old wives' tale though.

                1. re: achtungpv

                  I've made sour "sourdough" in a climate very different from San Francisco before. All locations have unique bacteria, but it is possible to create a sour loaf nearly anywhere. One problem is that sourdough is also a technique, and it's not necessarily as sour tasting as what we know of as San Francisco style.

                  The problem with places like panera and sourdough is that truly sour, sourdough is very work and time intensive, and that doesn't fit their model. The same is true of bagels. I think that Panera produces some fine products, but a vast chain will never produce great bagels or great sourdough (or croissants... the list goes on). When going into a place like that one has to know what they are capable of, and often that's what they've built the company on, and you'll probably get something good.

                  McDonald's didn't thrive because of the filet-o-fish...

          2. re: Chuck

            I tried some of Paneras' other items and they are better. But does anybody think that their breads are excessively yeasty...er gas producing?

            1. re: Joe

              Gas? I believe they sell Gas-X at their counter.

              Seriously, I agree with Hounds on their pastries. I have not found one I really liked. But, their three cheese french bread and the asiago stuff is real good. I also hear their salads are terrific.

              Another possible solution to your gas problem? Why not rip out all that extraneous bread between their great crust, butter that sucker up and enjoy. You don't need all those carbs anyway. I do this even with the best of bagels.

          3. re: Joe

            Try the cinnamon crunch bagel, hole or no hole it is really good. The Asagio bread is excellent!!! Both from Panera in Sarasota.

          4. Chuck,

            I love Panera's baguettes that they serve with their soups, but their panini sandwiches, while imaginative (esp. the turkey with spinach-artichoke spread) are ALL premade and frozen, and thrown in a toaster when you order them. I discovered this when I tried to hold the onions, which they seem to like a lot of.

            They recently opened a Panera and an Atlanta Bread Co. (which I had heard before were owned by the same company -- not sure?) within blocks of each other in Melbourne. It's so bizarre, because they are the EXACT same concept, down to the soup in a bread bowl. I've found, however, that while Panera has more of a variety, ABC has bona fide fresh sandwiches, made the way you want them, all prices average about 50 cents less AND they have challah bread! (Very diff. to find down here.) Incidentally, we went there immediately on the way home from the hospital (though it was slightly out of the way) because I was dying for decent food. And baby Caroline liked it! (Well, the atmosphere anyway.)

            5 Replies
            1. re: Covert Ops

              Hi Ops, Glad to here you and your baby (and hopefully your hubby) are doing well.

              1. re: Covert Ops

                Where's James Taylor when we need him? Congrats Ops to you and your family. Lots of good health and good eating, of course. How about some statistics? Lbs?

                Lets all hope Baby Caroline does get her chances to visit some of our bigger cities with their wonderful assortments of foods we all love and miss here in Central Florida. Just a little joke - Lots of luck!!

                1. re: Chuck

                  Thanks a lot, Chuck. She was 7 lbs 11 oz, 21 inches, born 4:57 am on Friday the 13th. :-) She's sleeping now, like the angel baby she usually is. But boy does she love to eat! I know I've got a real baby 'hound on my hands! :-)

                2. re: Covert Ops

                  The panini are not frozen. They are made and then put into a warmer. Then when orered they are placed on a grill for the finish grill.
                  Frozen and toasted, how in the heck do you put a panini into a toaster?

                  1. re: Covert Ops

                    Not quite accurate. I work at Panera. The hot sandwiches are "pre-made" in the back at each of the restaurants with only the freshest ingredients, everyday. They are then put in the cooler (not frozen...but keeping the meat etc at the proper temperature). They are then steamed to bring those flavors together and be ready for the quick service we are known for...they are completed when you order the sandwich, and put on the grill (much like a commercial George Foreman, but not a toaster) for the final melting of the cheese. The steaming process insures that the inside of the sandwich will be warm, and it does not have to take 25 minutes to 'bake' them to the same perfection as I don't think people would like the wait, right? So, because they are pre-assembled, and steamed, we cannot take the onions off. We occasionally run out of the sandwiches, and we go in the back to slice the meat, and make a fresh batch of the Hot Paninnis. Just like the cold sandwiches they are freshly made, with fresh ingredients.

                  2. Are you sure? The Panera here near Pinellas Park has rather mundane bread that is decidedly stale by late afternoon. I have not tried the Asiago, but will the next time I'm near one.

                    1. The Asiago cheese bread is soooo gooood. A very very good oh-so-sourdoug

                      1. interestingly enough, Panera used to be named the St. Louis Bread Co. I totally agree about the asiago bread. Very good and I had one everyday at camp before going home. Too bad they don't have a Panera in NYC...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ironchef1125

                          FYI, there is one in the Bronx and the last time I checked, that was part of NYC.

                        2. It really is worth going there for the sourdough bread bowls. some of the foccaccias are pretty good too- sandwiches, salads and other things are pretty poor.

                          not much better than getting some of the bread bowls to go (they carve the inside for you) in the winter and have at home with some piping hot chili. yum.

                          1. I actually like their soups and salads. It's a great relatively healthy quick lunch for me. I don't eat a whole lot of bread anyway but on rare occasions have had the rolls that come with the soup and they are just fine. Not mindblowing but certainly edible.

                            1. I find Panera a fine place to get breakfast or lunch. I haven't tried the pizza crisps that they only serve at dinner.

                              Yays: cinnamon crunch bagel, dutch apple bagel, FRENCH TOAST BAGEL (to my knowledge, nobody else does French toast bagels!), holiday bread is awesome, tomato basil bread, sesame semolina bread, french bread, french onion soup, fiesta queso soup, caesar dressing, tomato mozzarella salad

                              Nays: breakfast souffles, some soups taste canned

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: starbucksbrew

                                Let's be honest--if it's a cinnamon crunch, dutch apple or french toast item, IT IS NOT A BAGEL, it is a roll with a hole in it. Oops, I just saw Chuck's and Joe's posts. No hole. May taste good, but, I repeat, NOT A BAGEL.

                                1. re: Shayna Madel

                                  It is what it is, nothing special but I really do like the soups in the bread bowl. Being from east coast, you can not by any means call those bagels but some do have decent taste if you treat them more like pastries.

                                  I used to be a pharm rep and would go there almost every day to pick up lunches/breakfasts/snacks for MD offices and have tried most of everything. Their sweet things are a little over the top but I have to rank their quality of bread pretty good, best part being the options. The sourdough, sundried tomato and wheat are very good and I think better than what is offered by atlanta bread or cosi or corner bakery but not on same level as a local quality baker or even breadsmith.

                                  But you have to take it for what its worth, its a decent place to sit down and get a soup in a bread bowl for me or breads to take home, not a place personally for a quality sandwich or salad- go to fuddruckers for that.

                              2. I've eaten there once and won't be back. I won't be surprised if they start offering a special of a bread sandwich with a side of bread, bread stuffing, and for dessert bread pudding. I think their food is bland and third-rate.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Pete Oldtown

                                  I've tried Panera here in NJ. In fact, I've been to 3 different areas in the state. The bread is good, however, the sandwiches are overpriced. Basically, it's a lot of bread with very little stuffing. I'm done with Panera.

                                2. I don't remember ever eating at a Panera, but when visiting back home I have enjoyed several branches of the original St. Louis Bread Company. My nieces and nephew love their muffins, particularly the chocolate chip, but that's not much of a rec 'cuz most of them like anything with chocolate chips. I like some of their simpler sandwiches -- they have pepperoncinis as a garnish, which really sparks up a sandwich for me. Nothing spectacular, definitely several levels superior to Subway or Quizno's, more convenient and less pricey than a deli. A decent quick lunch, but a really good place to stop for a sandwich to carry on and eat on the plane back.

                                  1. sorry, I grew up eating Panera back when it was St. Louis Bread and Bakery company, and I still swear by it. Not incredible eats, but reasonably priced fast food that doesn't taste like Micky D's and is relatively healthy. I spent a whole year eating it for breakfast and weekend brunch in DC.

                                    Sometimes the sugary stuff is too sweet, but you're talking to a girl who used to have 2 cavities in 1 tooth when she was younger.

                                    1. Yea. I know it's a chain, but it is really quite good! My friend used to work for Panera so he'd give me all the excess baked goods at the end of the day that they were going to donate or throw out (ok, not all! haha just some)

                                        1. On my way to a weekly asssignment I routinely have a quick breakfast at Pantera in the tristate area (Albany NY). I find that they cannot for the life of them make a bagel worth touching. They lack consistency in other areas (eg the dough to make the "breakfast sandwiches"). In that case the change was actually to the up side. Not a good choice if there is any choice.