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Eh. Panera Bread. - moved from New England board

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What are your thoughts on this place?

I went in a few years ago and wasn't impressed. Hey, for a bakery and pastry place they didn't even have "chocolate chip muffins" they have these goofy "muffies" or "muffin tops. LOL.

Someone dragged me in there a few weeks ago and I tried 2 soups and thougth they were really good. Not amazing but decent. Not exactly worth 4.49 each either..But it was good. It was around 7pm too and it seemed freshly made.

Anyway, its cold and I was in the mood for soup so I stopped in a different Panera Bread at another location. Yuck. The same soup and this place must've had leftovers that were reheated and sitting out for days. The noodles were mushy and gross like they get when sitting around for so long. I went around 11am when it should have been fresh you would think. Yuck.

Bagels are mediocore. The Cinamon Crunch is really cinamon-y though. You don't see that anymore with bagels. But it was soggy and the shape was all scrunched.

Maybe it's just this particular location that sucked. (Route 2, Warwick RI) Although you couldn't tell by all the cars in and out of that place.

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  1. I just got soup and a sandwich there last week, the East Greenwich location. I hate to say it but I thought it was a bit fast foody. Soup was very salty, sandwich oily. I thought it would be fresh and maybe like homemade, eh.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Alica

      I avoid the place because the food usually doesn't make up for the chaotic atmosphere and gridlock feeling of the layout. However, I was outnumbered the other day and had to go in for lunch with a couple of friends. It was a chilly day so I ordered the chicken soup. It was almost inedibly salty and the noodles so mushy I was sure it was from a can. The salad was OK but not worth the trouble.

      1. re: Alica

        This is absolutely a fast food place in my book, just like Quizno's or Subway. I've only had their food once and it was at a corporate meeting where they brought in Panera sandwiches. The sandwiches were fine (ham and cheese, chicken salad); although the chicken salad was runny with so much mayo. Pickles, potato chips. Definitely not a place I need to make a visit to anytime soon since its just not the kind of food I eat these days.

        1. re: Alica

          For what it's worth, I regularly hit up three different Panera: West Leb, NH, Keene, NH, and East Greenwich, RI.

          None are stellar, but the first two are noticeably better in food quality and management than the East Greenwich one. I get sloppier salads and sandwiches there, stale bread, and long, long waits.

          Panera is "high end fast food". As long as that's your expectation, it's generally not too bad if you go to a well-managed location.

          1. re: Alica

            lol..that was the FIRST one I ever went in. I was disappointed that they didn't have "normal" bagels you'd find anywhere else. No Cinnamon Raisin and to make it worse they were out of the Cinnamon Crunch so I didn't try it until my recent visit.

          2. I had a bowl of brocolli cheese soup at a Panera in Bowie near DC last weekend and it was delicious. It was served with a baguette that was warm and crusty and perfect. My husband said his chicken caesar sandwich was good too. We shared a brownie that was just okay. We brought home a loaf of their bread and loved it for toast.
            The place was packed. We were not familiar with the area and it was nice to find a familiar place for lunch on our route.

            1. I think that they can be hit or miss,, Agree w/ Bri,, They are fast food but really struggle on a consistence products store to store,, On the soups make sure they have at least more than half or more in the insert or its been sitting for a while...Sandwiches can be decent,,Tomatoe pesto was nice for me @Marlboro Mass store The bread is the winner by far

              1. Tried it once. Salty, gummy chicken soup and an incredibly dry and bland turkey sandwich. For a place that's supposed to have great bread, it was pretty flavorless.

                1. I keep trying it hoping to like it but there's just very little that I like there. I got a bowl of soup and the children's peanut butter sandwich recently. The soup was not just overly salty, but so overseasoned I couldn't even eat it, it was awful (it was a tomato soup). The whole sandwich had, I'm not kidding, maybe one TEASPOON of p butter on it, spread across the bread. You could barely even detect that there was something on it, it was awful.

                  1. Some of the pastries are pretty good -- the danish ring is nice if you have to bring something to a meeting or someone's house.

                    The bagels are a joke. They are round bread rings, nothing more.

                    1. My bf is a regular at one of the Panera's in Tulsa, mostly for the chocolate chip cookies. I probably hit Panera maybe once a month, and usually for a cinnamon crunch bagel with hazelnut cream cheese. I've never had a bad one of those. Also like the free wi fi and out door patio. Other than that, I've enjoyed the chicken noodle soup in the bread bowl. The sandwiches are just kind of so-so. Not bad, but nothing to write home for.

                      1. I go for their asiago cheese bagels. Or I'll buy a few of their demi loafs thick cut to take home. I haven't been really impressed with their soups, but had a tasty roast beef sandwhich on their asiago rolls. Do you see a pattern here?

                        1. Well since we're all taking swings at the Panera pinata...

                          My thoughts: Artisan (I'll believe it when I see it) bread for the strip-mall crowd.

                          What kind of bakery opens at 6:30 am? One that's not really a bakery.

                          Food is adequate. And that's about it.

                          1. I've been eathing at Panera (St. Louis Bread) for over 15 years. When we travel and have to find something on the road, we are always happy to find a Panera. We have eaten at Panera in Portland, OR, throughout MO and in Texas, VA and CO. In general I find them to be consistent in quality. The chicken noodle soup has always been too salty, even though I sometimes get it. I do like many of their other soups. I've never had a bad sandwich at any Panera, though sometimes they could be put together a bit better.

                            I almost never find Panera chaotic, unless it is crammed in too small a place. Many of their salads I find too sweet. But everything else, including their baked goods are consistently good IMO.

                            Panera is fast food, but it is the most wholesome fast food I have ever found. I also like the vibe there. You see a cross section of a community . Grandma and grandpa, young kids after school, business lunches, lunch hour lawyers, people studying on their laptops.

                            It is one of the few fast food places where people often linger over their meals. I don't put in the same league as Quizno's or Subway, which I don't like. It is a cut above them.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sueatmo

                              See, your interpretation of it as "wholesome" is one of my big problems with Panera. People eat there thinking they are making a healthier choice than fast food. When your greek salad has over 50g of fat in it, nearly a female's entire fat gram allowance for the day, that's not a wholesome choice. And don't even start on the sandwiches, which are egregious in fat, calories and sodium.

                              Honestly, that's my biggest problem with Panera, outside of the fact that I don't particularly care for the food. People think they're going there to make a healthier choice, but it's not healthier.

                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                Yes, I'd have to say you're pretty on the money there in terms of nutrition. They seem to have the same amount of sodium, fat, and calories when compared to, say similar McDonald's products. But then again, when you eat out at pretty much any establishment, you're taking a gamble with the above. Panera just dresses it up in a more upscale version (which actually I enjoy). On the other hand, you could probably eat a fairly healthy sandwich there if you say, held the mayo, etc. which is quite a bit different than a McDonald's, where even if you held the "special sauce", you'd still be in it with the bun, etc.

                            2. While I don't put them in the same category as an artisinal bakery/patisserie, I DO put them in a category I like to call the 'fine dining of fast food'. And that has allowed me to enjoy Panera for what it is. An easy-going, mass-production concept that has average fresh food in an inviting environment. No problems here. Sure there will be hits and misses when ordering there, but I'm so much more forgiving at Panera when I get a dud, and know that I paid $5 for it, than I am when I do the same at a true fine dining restaurant and pay $45 for the entree. It's alot easier to swallow.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: FoodyGirly

                                So would you put Panera maybe in the Applebee's, 99 restaurant catagory?

                                1. re: Alica

                                  Not Applebee's, I've only been to one in my life and it wasn't a good experience. And other than Googling a minute ago, I'd never heard of this 99 restaurant.

                                  I guess if I had to give comparable places I'd say Au Bon Pain, Tim Horton's, Le Pain Quotidien (maybe this one is one notch better), that sort of category.

                                  1. re: FoodyGirly

                                    It just made me think of Applebee's, they claimed to have all of these "healthy" meals. Someone investigated the true nutritional value of these meals and they proved to be not at all what they say. Panera made me think of that. The whole Panera "vibe" seems to be healthy, fresh, and when I ate there that was not at all the case. I am in New England, maybe we anly have 99 restaurants in this area.

                              2. I like the idea of the place, and the comfortable surroundings but agree that the food appears to be more "healthy" than it really is. The few times I've been things seem to be very salty and sugary....and I am talking about things that are NOT supposed to be sugary (salads, sandwiches). I prefer Au Bon Pain's salads and sandwiches because the appear to have less sugar in all the ingredients...at least it tastes that way to me.
                                The other big turnoff I had at Panera: once I ordered an iced green tea, expecting to get green tea....well, it was green all right. Glow-in-the dark green!!! No remote taste of actual green tea, but very sweet and by gawd it looked like the original Gatorade in the cup. Bleh!
                                But...I do like their comfy chairs, etc. I just wish they'd cut back on the sugar and artificial stuff.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: poptart

                                  Yes, it's funny that you mention "sugary". I just went there on the weekend and had one of their morning egg souffle's. It's a mini-croissant, kind of in a muffin tray mold with scrambled egg and either bacon, spinach, cheese, etc. Anyway, I had the spinach/bacon combo. First time I was having it. I took my first bite and thought, hmmm, this is kinda sweet. And after several bites, kept getting that sweetness factor, which was a big turn-off. There was NO reason whatsoever for them to have had a sweet flavour to this; This went far beyond using 'sweet' butter in the croissant.

                                  But I'm like you, I like the *idea* of the place, and as I said above, if you really wanted to, you could eat healthfully there, you just have to be very specific in what you want.

                                  1. re: FoodyGirly

                                    I'm glad it's not just me. It was an odd experience to taste "sweet" in everything. Even the chicken breast on the salad had a sweet taste to it. Certainly better than some places, but still, too bad they go so heavy on the sugar and salt. I hate to think of how much hidden sugar is in a meal there for someone who has to be very careful about sugars in food.

                                    1. re: poptart

                                      Well, this thread prompted me to make a quick check, partly because I was curious, partly because I fed my little niece 3 Cinammon Crunch bagels in the last 2 days. I now wish I hadn't checked. 430 calories. And, get this: 30 GRAMS of SUGAR. Why in the world do you need 30 GRAMS!!! of sugar in a bagel?? And I think this is one of their 'signature' items? Yikes.

                                      1. re: FoodyGirly

                                        Glad you are enlightened. I would like to wake everyone up who eats there. If you are eating there and know what you're consuming in terms of fat/cals/sugar or whatever, more power to you. But most are not.

                                        1. re: rockandroller1

                                          Only slightly enlightened. I knew I wouldn't like what I was going to see, but I went to look anyway. I have to say I don't do that very often though or else I'd never eat out. That goes just as much for the fine dining restaurants I dine at just as much as any chains.

                                          Will I stop going to Panera? No. I will just go in knowing that it's probably the only meal I should be eating for the day! I still insist that it's a healthier option that true fast food. Maybe not by much, but still.

                                          And it's not the high calories and fat so much as I don't understand the sugar. I'm thinking they must have a corporate chef that oversees the concept. Why would they ever think that 'sweet' is a good flavor profile for egg souffle?

                                          1. re: FoodyGirly

                                            the same reason that when commercial bakers make wheat bread, they think that means they should add sugar, which I just do not get at all.

                                            I don't avoid eating the junky stuff I eat either, I just like to be informed how "bad" I'm being instead of being in the dark. I think you can make allowances for whatever you want in your diet, but being informed so you aren't overdoing it at every meal is what's important.

                                            1. re: FoodyGirly

                                              We eat at Panera fairly often. It truly is better than 99% of the other fast places around here. I do pick and choose. I ask for dressing on the side of my salads, choose a wholegrain baguette, and order the low fat soups, which are not equally good. Sandwiches are hard because almost all have cheese on them.

                                              One thing Panera has is choices. If you make careful choices you can find things which aren't too bad. I wish restaurants made truly healthy food. But they don't. Panera at least gives you a decent salad, or the choice of whole grain.

                                              And as I said before I like the neighborhood feel and the wi fi access too.

                                        2. re: poptart

                                          I used to eat at Panera pretty often (soups and sandwiches, not the bakery goods), and I noticed that a couple hours later I'd always get that weird blood sugar thing where you get kind of weak, dizzy and sick feeling because you've ingested too much sugar and/or carbs and not enough protein. It's making more sense now, if all the food is liberally laced with sugar. I guess diabetics should beware <g>.

                                        3. re: FoodyGirly

                                          I've had the same unpleasant experience. Their vegetable and hummus sandwich is on a sun dried tomato bread. Every time I've ordered the sandwich has come out on a nasty red sugar-crusted dessert-type bread. After several inquiries I've come to understand that the sugary bread is supposed to be sun dried tomato, even though it doesn't taste a thing like sun dried tomato...

                                          1. re: odkaty

                                            Where did you look to find out the sugar, calories, etc.. Do they show it on their website. This thread is a great example of how you really should pay attention to what you eat. I do not mind having sinful moments but I prefer it be my choice! As I said before, they really do portray themselves as a fresh and healthy place to eat.

                                            1. re: Alica

                                              Yes, I found it on their website. I guess on one hand give them credit for putting it up there, I'm not sure if they're legally required to do so, but I don't think so.

                                              And yes, Panera is marketed as fresh and healthy...it's all about the branding!

                                              1. re: FoodyGirly

                                                They didn't used to have it available and the customers complained in droves. I remember when one opened near me years ago I asked for nutritional information and they gave me two huge, plastic, 3-ring binders and told me I could look through them and bring them back when I was done, no joke.

                                      2. I don't like it very much foodwise. Almost everything I've eaten there has been not so good, and the wi-fi is slow and sucky! However, it is rather cozy and comfortable, the coffee's OK, and you don't have to ask six times for it to be served in a mug instead of a paper cup. I have eaten two things there that I liked: a bear claw pastry and an egg sandwich. But they only have the egg sandwiches at breakfast, so most of the time I'm outta luck.

                                        1. I was unimpressed when I first tried Panera in Ohio. When they opened one in my town, where the owner of the chain lives, I gave it another try on the assumption that this would be sort of the flagship of the chain and would take special care with the food. No such luck. Salty soup and a bland, boring tuna sandwich.

                                          1. Wow, that's a lot of loathe for Panera! I've seen a TV feature about their breads; they start baking at around 2 a.m. so as to open at 6:30. The breads are all baked on premises, though IIRC the dough is made and formed at a commissary (could be wrong about this part). You have the ability to choose from several whole grain breads there, which makes it healthier than most quick-meal chains. It is generally not rushed, or packed with little kids, so it's a more pleasant atmosphere for grown-ups. I like being able to have a cup of coffee in a nice mug. I think the asiago and 3-cheese demi-baguettes, and the multigrain loaves, are excellent. I haven't cared for the pastries; the cookies are okay. I like some of the soups and the tuna salad sandwich. As for the levels of salt and sugar, that should not be a surprise. The vast majority of restaurant items contain more than customers would ever imagine, whether it's hidden or easily discernable. If Starbucks had less emphasis on coffee and more on food, it would be Panera.

                                            1. It is ok, but not great. I've tried their pastries, lunch sandwiches, salads and soups and nothing has made me want to order it again. The only thing I do get on a regular basis is their breakfast sandwich. It's pretty basic, it has a fried egg, cheese on a baguette and you can add either sausage or bacon. They also have a small cellophane sampler package of their cookies which I buy to share at work or on a road trip with friends. Their cookies on a small scale are good but the larger ones are so-so.