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Anything good at Panera Bread?

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One of these is opening in the newly remodeled Northgate Mall here in Marin County, Ca. I've never been to one. How's the food and the breads? Anything especially good or is it just a fancied-up chain? (And I'm not even going to ask about the unfortunately named BJ's which is opening as well..)

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  1. Their breads are good, if not a tad expensive.

    If you're not fortunate to have a boulangerie in your 'hood and the grocery store bakery sucks, Panera will be a nice repository of speciality breads. Their bagels are better than average but not superb (it's a cut above the baked circular bread that most places sell as a bagel).

    I find their sandwiches to be okay, a bit on the skimpy side with the fillings. I've found their soups to be too salty.

    One upside with the place, is that most of the locations I've been to offers free wi-fi.

    1. Chowhound opinions from just a few months ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/628194

      1. The free wifi is good.

        The breads are not as good as you'd find at an artisanal bakery, but they're tasty and textury enough. My mom was a big fan of their 3-cheese bread.

        I like their soups. I don't like most of the sandwiches (overly fussy, not the right balance of ingredients to please me), and the salads are hit & miss - the seasonal salads tend to be better than the standard ones IMO.

        I do like their breakfast items - the egg sandwiches, the "souffle" thingies, the bagels & the breakfast pastries. Again, it's not what you'd find at a good indy specialty store, but it's good enough.

        1. It's a chain, but you could certainly do a lot worse. The soups are good as benbenberi mentioned and for a quick sandwich/salad it isn't bad. Surely a lot healthier than your typical burger/fries meal and much tastier/fresher than Subway. Coffee is decent too, not too burnt/strong like Starbucks. Among other typical food court choices, I'd pick Panera.

          2 Replies
          1. re: iluvcookies

            Like any deli-style place, there are better and worse choices from a nutrition standpoint. Panera's Chipotle Chicken sandwich has almost 1000 calories in its standard format.

            1. re: beachmouse

              This is true of any restaurant. I still think Panera has a better variety and overall quality than say, Burger King or Nathan's.

          2. One word of caution...I've had their French Onion soup at two locations & at both it was salty as all get out. That one is off my list.

            1. For some reason my husband wants to eat at Panera all the time when we go out lately. Although I try to avoid wheat I do like the chicken salad sandwich they've been offering--I usually get the half sandwich and soup combo. The tomato soup is too sweet but the southwestern corn chowder is decent. You can do worse.

              1. I agree the sandwiches are a little boring.

                I liked the vermont white cheddar macaroni and cheese and there soups are good but for those watching your sodium you might want to stay away from the soups.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Sandwich_Sister

                  I agree about the macaroni! So much I made my own recipe for it:
                  http://www.jonvandalen.com/lte/2010/0...

                  1. re: tzakiel

                    Yummy! Awesome, I think I will try your recipe. Thank you!

                2. The bacon egg and cheese sandwiches are actually really good. They use a somewhat sharp cheddar and a soft ciabatta that sets it apart from typical english muffin or biscuit sandwiches. Reviewed at http://fastfoodcritic.com/fast-food-r...

                  The bagels are decent too, especially if there's no 'real' bagel joint near you.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ratbuddy

                    I agree, this is the only thing I order from there after trying most of the menu. Their coffee is really good too, pretty strong. They have free wi-fi which seems to be a big draw for the customers at the location I go to.

                  2. the broccoli cheese soup is nice but goes runny quickly. Their sandwich menu is dull and their tuna salad is too sweet and messy. Sourdough baguettes are good.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: smartie

                      broccoli cheese soup no longer tastes cheesey but seems to taste more of boiled milk. Sandwiches have gotten smaller.

                    2. They're ok, nothing to write home about. Their soups/ sandwhiches are too expenseive since you can make better at home. They charge you a ridiculous amount of money to have soup served in a hollowed out piece of bread. Like thats original. People have been doing that for thousands of years.

                      1. Here are my thoughts on Panera: The breakfast stuff is pretty good. I have a big weakness for the Cinnamon Crunch bagel every once in a while. The baked goods are definitely worth trying.

                        The savory selections, however, are not my favorite. I like the soup, but it's nothing special. The sandwiches don't come in ingredient combinations that are all that appealing to me and if you've ever tried a chicken sandwich or salad - the meat is just not good.

                        It's a great place to take your laptop, use the free wifi, have a snack and get some work done, but I don't recommend it for serious eating.

                        1. I think their food is very mediocre and run of the mill. I've been there about 3 times -- the last time was probably about 4 years ago. Each time I tried something different and came away thinking, "Well I wouldn't order THAT again." I would say to the OP, "Yes - it is a 'fancied-up chain'." I would say go if you are curious about it and if it is very easy and convenient to go -- just don't go 30 seconds out of your way for it.

                          1. I have co-workers who love it, but I could never get excited about their offerings... but there are two items that I discovered and really liked...

                            1) Tortilla Soup... seriously better than some upscale Mexican places...

                            2) The Apple Salad. They use Apple Chips, which add a nice texture to the salad...

                            --Dommy!

                            1. My SO loves Panera... he probably goes there every day or every other day just for their chocolate chip cookies. (He's also annoyingly thin) I like the cinnamon crunch bagel, and when traveling often seek them out for the free wifi.

                              1. Their tomato basil loaf, pecan rolls, asiago cheese bread or bagels, honey whole wheat, egg bakes and fudge brownies all make me smile. I have never ordered from the regular menu and wouldn't bother with their coffee or tea bars but the baked breads and bakery items are fresh daily, offered at a fair price and work in a pinch when I'm not baking myself. A freshly toasted asiago cheese bagel with sundried tomato cream cheese filling up the "nooks and crannies" is killer good.

                                1. I love their Hazelnut coffee. They have it all day long, which is a rarity in my area. Tons of coffee, but not the flavored stuff, which I get in the mood for sometimes.

                                  Lately, I've been going there daily for a cup, but I skip the food. If I were starving, I'm sure I'd manage, but I've yet to eat anything there that I thought was worthwhile. Their pumpkin muffins are nice.