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Panera Bread ... any good?

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Panera Bread is a newcomer to the neighborhood and I was wondering if they're worthy of a visit. Does anyone have a Panera Bread location nearby and have any recommendations?

Link: http://www.panera.com/

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  1. Panera is to bread what Starbucks is to coffee. Opinions depend on how strongly one obsesses about bread, or coffee. I am not a Pantera fan, at all.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      I'm not a pantera fan either, except their song "cemetary gates," it rocked.

      1. re: amkirkland

        ha-ha-ha just too funny - really not sure why I am so amused!

        1. re: amkirkland

          Poor Dimebag Darrell.

          :)
          BK

          1. re: amkirkland

            OMG I'm so going to get in trouble for laughing so much @ work.

        2. It's the kind of place that people feel the need to compare to an artisanal bakery, but they lose sight of the benefits. The bread isn't the absolute best, but it's far better than good grocery store bakeries. Few places can put so many pieces together. Good bakeries don't necessarily make good sandwiches. good coffee shops don't necessarily have good pastries. No, not everything is incredible or healthy, but they have very good food, for a reasonable price, fast. Add to that good coffee, wi-fi and friendly service in my experience.

          1. Not a huge fan. It hurts to say that, since the chain began as a STL homespun business but it's really gone downhill.

            I hate what passes for french onion soup: salty, oleaginous slop with boxed croutons and cheap shaved parmesan on top. For pete's sake, even Applesleaze can do a reasonably edible FOS.

            Their salads are much worse than they used to be.

            Bagels: I'm not a NYer, so they are fine for me; in fact, that's all I'll get there these days.

            Sandwiches: I don't eat hunks of meat, so I can't attest to most of the offerings. However, their vegetarian sandwiches are really insubstantial. Even Subway is better for sandiwches, though Panera wins on the bread side of things.

            Bread in general: meh, not so bad, I guess. But local bakeries definitely produce better.

            Again, it pains me to say these things. I want to love Panera but I just can't anymore.

            3 Replies
            1. re: IndyGirl

              I've had french onion soup at Appleby's & it was just about inedible. Blehhh.

              1. re: flourgirl

                I know, that's my point. I despise Applesleaze! But even it was better than what I got at panera last time. Very unfortunately.

              2. re: IndyGirl

                I loved Panera when it first opened up in S. CA and I'd go miles out of my way for lunch or dinner. Then they opened one near my home in northern San Diego County. Boy, was I excited when the constructions signs went up. I was ther on opening day last fall. But over the past 6 months the place has really deteriorated. The salads use dried apples (even though they provide real apples for a side), the lettuce is often brown at the edges, and the tables are often dirty and unbussed. I had bought some stock in the company and tried calling them to report the problems, but there was no way to talk to anyone via the web and they never answered the form I filled out and sent in. Since then I've sold the stock and no longer go there. Very disappointing and goind downhill fast.

              3. The location near us (Santa Monica, CA) isn't crowded (I suppose that's probably because there are many better bakeries and cafes here), and that makes it a great place to study/work. Free WiFi, decent bagels and sandwiches, bottomless coffee. It lacks the charm of smaller places, but sometimes I'll choose efficiency and simplicity over charming and crowded.

                1. Not a huge fan but their lo-cal chicken noodle soup is good. I find it pretty pricey for a whole meal combo.

                  1. I like all of the breads but the Asiago Cheese Bagels are outstanding!

                    1. I'm not a big fan of Panera. I think that the bread is just fine, but not much more than that. It's better then what you can get at your average supermarket. The sandwich combinations are odd and I don't think that they work well. However, their everything bagel is pretty good, and I have high bagel standards. Also, yesterday I had my first espresso from them and I was shocked that it was also pretty good. Not excellent, but if I made it at home I would be pleased.

                      1. I am a huge chain snob and almost never eat "fast food" but I absolutely CRAVE Panera. I eat there all the time for lunch. Their soups and salads are wonderful. I rarely get the sandwiches, but I've had the paninis and they are good. I am very surprised by the negative reviews above. For a fast lunch spot, this place is great!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: raleighgurl

                          I've ceased to be surprised by what people hate around here. As chain things go, the better they get, the more people hate them it seems. You won't see people rip on McD's near as much as they do on places like Panera.

                        2. I'm a big fan of Panera. When I'm sick, I crave the chicken noodle soup - I buy it by the quart when I feel something coming on. I hear they make a turkey noodle soup that is even better - have yet to see it.

                          I also enjoy the bottomless coffee, free wifi combo. I've spent tons of time in Paneras writing or studying and I've never been hassled.

                          I agree with a lot of the above - their bread isn't amazing, but it's much better (and more imaginative) than what I can get from the market.

                          I'm not a big fan of sandwiches, but I do enjoy the pressed sandwiches. Note that they are made up beforehand and just preheated on the press, so you can't have ingredients taken out (if you don't like tomatoes, say). They are a little greasy and I don't think I could eat a whole one, but I find it satisfying if I mix half a sandwich with some soup.

                          1. I used to love Panera. There is one near my office and I ate there once or twice a week for a while but last two times I went the quality of the food had gone down substantially.

                            1. Avoid it like the plague. The food is disgusting. It always looks and tastes like its been sitting there for a week. If you HAVE to get something, just get a salad. They are probably the only edible things on the menu!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: NiKoLe1625

                                but get dressing on the side... they can go heavy

                              2. the bagels are good though...

                                1. I have a love/hate thing going on with them. It's mostly due to the customer service glitches I've experienced there - nothing nasty, just clueless at times. Their coffee is almost always very hot, which I like, and I usually get a pastry or a fruit cup. Panera's sandwiches are just too overwhelming for me.

                                  If you're near a good local bakery or coffee shop, I'd go there instead (prices might be more reasonable, too). But Panera isn't bad if you need something quick and convenient.

                                  1. I'm a big coffee and free WIFI fan, and there is a Panera near me which was one of the first with this combo. Gets too busy around lunch time to sit in, though. Have only had a bit of the food-- a quiche like breakfast thing, delicious, though I'm sure I don't want to know the calorie count. I'm a bagel purist, so it would never occur to me to have a bagel there. I also don't eat French onion soup, so no comment on that. There's a salad with beef, that is good, nice and fresh when I've had it. I'd say it all depends on what your alternatives are and what you are looking for. Good, not great.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Anne H

                                      The Panera near my office in the greater Boston area is always crowded when I've gone at lunch (and there are many other lunch options in the area). I agree many of the sandwiches and salads are run of the mill and the paninis, while tasty, a tad too greasy for my consciousness. However, I have found their seasonal soups to be divine. I wish they'd carry some of them year-round.

                                    2. in my office when someone brings in Panera in the morning, it is a big dissapointment for me. I tried to like it the first few times, but found the breads dry, and lacking flavor, & the muffins not very good. I appreciate the gesture, but when its my "turn" to treat the staff i hit Dunkin Doughnuts, and bring in some bagels, and coffe as well. I am not a fan of Panera's breakfast items so I wouldnt consider giving them a chance for lunch.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: amkirkland

                                        not really, if the breakfast items were poor, why would I want to try lunch?, anyway their lunch menu doesnt have any Italian Beef sandwiches, chinese food, & it isnt a taqueria so it wouldnt fit in with what I eat for lunch anyway.. Im not a salad, and a pannini type kind of guy.

                                        if Panera works for you, enjoy.... it just does not work for me... different people have different tastes, thats what makes the world go around..

                                        1. re: swsidejim

                                          I'm not trying to make you like it, I just think of sandwiches and soups as different than bagels and pastries, so they could be good at one or the other, and bad at one or the other.

                                      2. I tried there new creamy tomoto soup today....excellent and vegetarian.

                                        1. When I was still living in the dining wastelands of central Florida and Panera arrived, it was a great option - and we got take-out from there at least one night a week. Solid, fresh food and a sight better than most of our other choices.

                                          Now that I'm in southern California, with many options for bakeries/cafes/sandwich shops, I don't go there as often.

                                          I don't think of their bagels as "bagels" - they're more of a bread shaped vaguely like a bagel. I've not been thrilled with their cookies (too greasy) or their pastries (too dry, unless they're fresh from the oven), but their breads can be good. Oh, and their Asiago Cheese bagels freeze well - I usually toast them and serve as a bread along with a soup/salad meal. Roomies like the scones, but don't expect a traditional scone in terms of flavor or texture - they're okay, IMHO.

                                          Salads aren't bad, but get the dressing on the side. Panini sandwiches tend to be greasy and it's frustrating that they're non-customizable. Basic soups tend to be salty and have a mass-produced taste. Seasonal soups tend to be less salty and more flavorful, in my experience. Fresh sandwiches aren't bad (and are usually what I order). Not impressed with their Crispani pizzas (I don't like thin-crust pizzas, as a rule). Breakfast souffles were tasty and rich (I don't want to know their calorie/fat counts, though).

                                          I've found that quality varies greatly from store to store. Some things I've learned the hard way: If you get an assorment of bagels, make sure that the Asiago Cheese ones go into a separate bag, else all of the bagels will smell/taste like Asiago cheese. If you get more than one soup to go, make sure that they're bagged separately and that they're not stacked on top of each other (more than once I've had the heat from one container melt the lid of the one below, resulting in a mess).

                                          All of that being said, I do eat at Panera and never dread the prospect. And it's an excellent option when I'm on the road.

                                          1. Get their cinnamon raisin bread sliced thick and use it for French toast. Delicious.

                                            1. when we get tired of Corner Bakery, we head to Panera. it's just better in comparison. but yes, i agree with the dissenters. it lacks something.