Panera: I admit it. My chain bias was unsubstantiated.
Someone brought a box of pastries to the office yesterday in a plain white box. The contents included danishes, chocolate croissants, cinnamon twists, and various others. I tried a twisted pastry that had toasted pecans and cinnamon in it. It was very delicious! And the pastry was delightfully flakey neither too dry nor too greasy and overall tasted very fresh.
I was informed later that these pastries were from Panera. In the past I have never even paid attention to this place as an option simply because it was a chain. I hereby admit that I've been a snob in the past and admit that sometimes a chain could be good.
Can anyone verify chain consistency? I think this batch of pastries were from Watertown.
I've never eaten one of their pastries. The bread I have eaten from Panera is mediocre at best. Very white, very processed without any hint of a yeasty taste. I do like their salad with beef and walnuts. Dressing isn't overwhelming, nice selection of greens. Not a bad choice when I have to have lunch in places like Concord, NH or Nashua. My Mother loves their soups, so it is a neutral lunch spot when we go out to lunch together.
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Pizzas or whatever they call them...not great; and if you enjoy truly artisan bread...DO NOT buy their bread.
For food I say that there is a continuum from horrible to amazing. Panera (St. Louis Bread Company here where it started) is not horrible and it's not amazing. Most people have something they really like; I like the sandwiches. (I get extra everything.) My biggest dissapointment are the bagel-shaped rolls -- the crust is OK but it's just bready in the middle. And they don't even have onion bagel-shaped rolls or lox of any kind.
But it's a darn sight better than many other bakeries I've been to, just not as good as the best.