Panera in Astoria
My first time at a Panera I had the same reaction - boring food, nothing that seemed all that good. But I've gone many times since then and really like it (yes I know it's not Chowhound-ish but sometimes we all have a chain place we like to go to). I think for a quick meal that is inexpensive, it's very good.
I like their broccoli cheddar soup and their salads. They have great lemonade year round that isn't too sweet and their french baguette is great. I haven't tried the flatbread pizzas but they looked pretty good when I saw other people order them. Other than the bread, I've had their oatmeal raisin cookies which were terrific and their asiago "bagel" with sundried tomato spread is also tasty.
There's a reason it tastes like Au Bon Pain, it's part of a big generic chain that was started by the Au Bon Pain people. In fact, it was so successful that they kept Panera and sold off the actual Au Bon Pain chain! They're very popular in suburban places like L.I. and N.J. and they stock an awful lot of stuff, but I think all of it is pre-made and trucked in. Clients I had out in Suffolk Co. always wanted to go there for lunch. I never had anything that rose above the blah, and few things, like their sandwiches, that were downright bad. And, as you note, over-priced. There must be a lot of better options in a place like Astoria.