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Mar 4, 2007 09:53 AM

Sandwich vs Panera Chapel Hill, NC

Yesterday afternoon I ventured out to find something tasty for lunch. As it was a beautiful Spring like day the lawn of Weaver St. Market was calling. Unfortunately, it was calling to everyone else in town so I did a quick mental inventory of lunch spots and came up with one that I had not yet tried and had come highly recommended from a friend in the area. Scott, you know who you are. Sandwich was the destination and I was very much looking forward to giving it a shot.

The cooler by the front door was stocked with drinks, including a couple interesting sounding house brewed teas. I placed my order for the “Mr. Crunch” consisting locally made cured sausages, a fresh mozzarella and greens on a house made baguette. I got the order to go with the plan of eating in the sun on my patio. The total for just the sandwich was $9.80 ish. Seemed kinda pricy to me but I figured what the heck, all local and supposed to be one of the finest sandwiches around. I got to my car and couldn’t wait to give it a shot so I unwrapped it to have a bite before I head home. Initial thoughts: Kind of small for nearly ten bucks, bread had a fantastic crust though and the combination of the excellent bread, soft mozzarella, and salty well seasoned cured meats was really great. Still though, I wanted to compare this to something a little more mass market to see how it stacked up.

Off to Panera, about ¾ mile down Franklin St. to get something that was similar / comparable. I’ve been to Panera exactly one time several years ago so this was going to be a relatively “new” experience as well. I got the Italian combo in cibatta along with a bag of chips and an iced tea for around $8.50. I hopped in my car and headed for home looking forward to a little taste test. When I got home I unwrapped both and took a look. The Sandwich (S) sandwich was about 2/3 the size of Panera’s (P) in all respects. I took a bite of the italian from P and was hit by a hit of onion and a mostly flavorless mass of various types of meats. The bread had no crust / crunch to speak of and had a HEAVY amount of flour dusting the top of it. It wasn’t awful, just not really great. Something that I could have replicated with a two day old Whole Foods cibatta and some inexpensive deli meats. There was a smear of mayo on the P sandwich and well, it was a big sandwich with a drink and chips for a buck less than the S sandwich. However… I then took a bite of the S sandwich and from the first crunch of the crusty bread to the wonderfully soft and salty combination of the cheese and meat then a nice hit from a really good understated pesto, the winner was clear. The flavors of the S sandwich were well balanced and worked well together. Panera certainly wins if one wants to buy food on a dollars per pound basis but for pure quality of the product and balance of flavors, I’ll be spending my lunch money at Sandwich.

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  1. Just a nitpicky thing to help future search-function-users: it's Sandwhich with an H in the middle. Folks seem to have a hard time Googling it, but I think it's partly that they don't know how it's spelled. (while I'm at it:


    Otherwise, great report. I think we all sometimes have to fight against the "pounds per dollar" fallacy that has been drummed into our heads by the SuperSize Marketers our whole lives. Cheaper is not the same thing as better. Bigger is not the same thing as better. 20-30 years of TV advertising incessantly pounding those messages into our brains is hard to deprogram from ;-)

    For what it's worth, I've eaten at Sandwhich at least 6-8 times (I'd eat there far more often if they were open in the evening, or if I worked in Chapel Hill, believe me) and while it's true that the sandwiches aren't gi-normous, I've never gone away feeling hungry. It's more like they're normal-human-lunch-sized.

    And if you *do* still have a little space in yr belly after your sandwich, there's excellent chocolate next door at 3 Cups, and soon there will be a LocoPops, which should resolve any nagging pangs once-and-for-all.

    1. Ross, you are very correct. I had a sandwich and sandwhich. I also had it on ciabatta not cibatta. Buying cars or food on a strictly price per pound basis is most always not the fastest way to an enjoyable or high quality experience. The serving size at Sandwhich was perfectly adequate and human sized. In the last 10-12 years West Franklin has added some really wonderful food options.

      1. I completely agree w/ the lbs/$ idea...Sandwhich has a very high taste/$, and quantity is rarely a substitute for quantity with food.

        Now for a Sandwhich open for breakfast? I know 3 Cups is open at 7:30 AM, which would be good for me, but I haven't ventured in yet...I'm looking for coffee + eggy Sandwhich would really hit the spot.

        1 Reply
        1. re: inmybackpages

          The website says: Monday - Saturday 11-4

          So I think it would depend on your definition of "breakfast"

        2. Is that even a fair comparison, though? Panera is just a chain and was never in contention for best sandwich in the Triangle. The real question to ask is if Sandwhich really is the best.

          2 Replies
          1. re: BryanZ

            Well, let's try to compile a list of the contenders.

            Off the top of my head:

            Merritt's BLT
            Anything at Sandwhich, but particularly the OBLT with the jalapenos
            The African Tuna (any way - melt, with bacon, or with peanut butter) at Skylight Exchange
            Banh Mi at Dalat (so much better than those at 9N9)
            I've had some damn good sandwiches from the counter at Southern Season
            the Pastrami at Piedmont

            Let's arbitrarily exclude BBQ sandwiches as being a totally different animal . . .

            What else is there? I'm sure I'm missing about 38 other contenders . . .

            For my money, I'd have to say that the consistent quality & the range of options at Sandwhich really does put it at the top of my list, but I'd be overjoyed to hear about some other category-killer to try.

            1. re: rossgrady

              agree that the banh mi at dalat are better, but are they $2? i mean, come on. if we're going that far, we should include charlie's banh mis at jujube. they're excellent, too. agree with piedmont and merritt's, without question. i won't go in skylight--that place gives me the heebie jeebies. (don't really like tuna salad anyway) the reuben at times bar is pretty awesome--also house cured corned beef and great kraut. TOTALLY agree with the OBLT at sandwhich. i love the Be A Hero at J&J's... 3 meats, your choice of cheese, and all the toppings you want for like 7 bucks. and their sweet tea is outrageously good.
              would also add the cheesesteak special at IP3. mmm... melty.

          2. The quality of the Southern Season Sandwich counter has, in my opinion, declined pretty substantially in the past year or two. It seems each time I go there is a new (not new to me, literally in their first week of employment) person behind the counter who doesn't know what ingredients are supposed to go in which sandwich. Still better than Panera, better than Bear Rock but not on par w/ the rest of the store or w/ Sandwhich. I usually buy components and put it together in the car.

            I'd also nominate J&J's Deli in Timberlyne. I think Sandwhich is better but J&J isn't a bad lunch.