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Communities reporter Rachel Richardson is on a mission to prove vegetarians eat more than lettuce. She shares both her graduate work on American food culture and food-related news.. E-mail her at rrichardson@enquirer.com.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Panera: I don't get it!

Why do people seem to love Panera? The bagels are tough and resemble hockey pucks by day's end, the soup is overly salty and any sandwich I've ever had was dripping with mayo or oil. Not good eats.
This morning I was on my way back from an assignment in Montgomery, so I stopped at the one in Kenwood. Bad idea. Multigrain bagel wasn't bad, but the low-fat veggie cream cheese was awful!
Have you ever tried it? Even the Philadelphia version has bits of "real" veggies (minuscule but nonetheless present). This stuff was chock full of dried vegetables that were really chewy, and the only flavor/smell I could discern was pea. I thankfully only put it on one bite to try it so my bagel was not ruined.
Oh, and while I'm complaining, the soy cappuccino I'm drinking is cloyingly sweet.
Are you a Panera fan?


21 Comments:

at 11:33 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll occasionally get a taste for their sandwiches or salads (not crazy about the soups), but I have to agree - their bagels are the WORST. "Hockey puck" describes them to a tee. The last time I tried to give them a chance I had recently gotten into Bruegger's garden veggie cream cheese, so I tried Panera's version. YUCK. I made the mistake of putting it all over my bagel. BLECH.

 
at 11:47 AM Blogger Cin Twin1 said...

Panera's is one of my standby "fast food" options.

For soups I get black bean, french onion or the new tomato.

For salads, I LOVED the Harvest Orchard that had dried cherries, pears, pecans, and blue cheese, but they have taken it off the menu!

Have you noticed they all smell the same?

Don't eat a lot of bagels, so can't fairly make a comment about those.

 
at 12:50 PM Blogger cakegrrl2007 said...

Do NOT like Panera and they are just opening here in CA all over Sacramento. Waste of retail sq. footage.

 
at 1:02 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yet they are slammed everyday...you can't get near the place at lunch.....what are people ordering there? I agree the bagels are B-A-D.

 
at 1:26 PM Blogger Julie said...

They used to have a lobster bisque that was decent. I'll occasionally get a roast beef sandwich or a loaf of bread if I'm not near Shadeau, but I wish we'd open a Cosi or something like that-- similar but much, much better. Plus, Panera is overpriced.

And the bagels are awful. Ugh.

 
at 1:32 PM Blogger Stepf said...

I was admittedly a bit under the weather and driving, otherwise I would have tried a salad. How in the world can they justify that cream cheese?
This place was packed, at 10:30 on a Friday morning. A friend of mine who freelances sets up shop at a local Panera and spends hours there. What are people eating? Do they really like it?
Panera is a prime example of how a chain restaurant uses salt and fat (all those fancy flavored mayos, spreads and cheese) to cover up mediocre food.

 
at 1:41 PM Blogger Julie said...

When I was in grad school and teaching I practically lived there for the free wireless and cheap coffee and closeness to my house (this was pre-coffee shop on the West Side). But I only really drank the coffee-- rarely got anything to eat that wasn't a salad.

 
at 1:45 PM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Panera. I think the bagels are good if you get them fresh, but I agree with them getting a little tough once they aren't as fresh. I loooooooove their Hazelnut cream cheese - I could eat it by itself!!! Normally when I go for lunch or dinner, I just get the black bean or a veggie soup. It tastes fine to me. To each his own.

 
at 1:52 PM Anonymous S03 said...

Low fat and no fat cream cheese are vile abominations that should be outlawed along with decaf coffee.

I think you can do a lot worse than Panera for a quick meal, I always order my sandwich without the oil or mayo.

 
at 2:40 PM Blogger Cin Twin1 said...

I just remembered I have gotten their cookies before, and I always ask for them to get me one from lower in the stack. I find the ones on top are stale. You would think they would enclose the bagels,pastries, and cookies so no airborne particles can contaminate them, and would also preserve the freshness.

 
at 3:38 PM Blogger Rachel said...

I don't care for bagels, period and have only tried Panera's trail mix bagel. It was just like all other bagels: chewy, dense and flavorless.

That being said, I can often be found in Panera restaurants, particularly the one in Miami Township. I'm what they call a mojo (mobile journalist) which means I am out in the field quite a bit. Panera offers free wifi and unlimited iced tea refills.

I used to like Panera's low-carb pumpkin bread, but they phased it out. The only thing I get there now is a basic PB & J on wheat off the kid's menu. I went to a Chicago Panera in February and asked for the child's grilled cheese. It was positively awful. It wasn't grilled, the cheese wasn't melty, and it just tasted really bad. Oh, and yogurt was not meant to be sucked from a cardboard tube.

 
at 4:15 PM Blogger Julie Gaw said...

I don't go there a ton, but I adore Panera's sandwiches, salads and thin crust pizzas (dinner only last time I was there - which has been a while). I don't think they are the healthiest things in the world, but I'll splurge once in a while. Give me that over McD's any day. (I don't eat their breads or bagels with any regularity - only if they show up on the office on some rare occasion).

 
at 4:29 PM Blogger Julie Gaw said...

I also love that sandwiches come with a choice of bread (a good hard roll), an apple - or chips. I don't think I've ever gotten the chips.

 
at 8:05 PM Anonymous Anon Y. Mous said...

The provincial folks in this bucolic cowtown wouldn't know a good bagel if it hit them in the face. A bagel isn't a bun with a hole in the center, folks. A bagel shouldn't be soft and squishy; it should be firm and toothsome. Marx has the ONLY real bagels that are to be found in this area. It's just too bad that the schmuck who owns that place screwed his business up so bad that he had to close all but one of his locations. Now I can't even find his bagels at Krogers anymore.

 
at 9:47 AM Blogger Julie said...

Oh, Marx Bagels. I never get them anymore since I don't work near there, but god, those were good. Now that's a bagel. Voted, I believe, best bagel outside of NYC by someone.. have to look that up. Best bagel outside of NYC in my opinion, for sure.

 
at 9:59 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never thought that the "bagels" at Panera were actually bagels. Maybe I'm off kilter here, but they are more like mini-round-bread-loaves.
If you ask me, there is nothing bagel-like about them.
Otherwise, I can live with Panera, when I feel like being overwhelmed with bread....

 
at 10:19 AM Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Panera is terrible. No matter what soup you get, it is overloaded with pepper, salads are rarely fresh, and presentation is poor. I only go in there very occasionally. I think the place is popular because the stores are very attractive and clean.

For fast food, Chipotle is a better deal.

 
at 2:20 PM Anonymous Chad Edward said...

No, you're exactly right. Panera is the devil's vomit.

But, maybe we've solved the riddle. I used to set-up and write at Panera only because of the free Wi-Fi too. Maybe it's packed with writers?

I ordered tea, but watched others ordered food. I tried it once and was confused where my $8 was going. I'm convinced it wasn't going for the slice of processed cheese stuff.

Anyway, the Panera near me started charging for Wi-Fi and there's really no reason to return.

 
at 9:45 AM Blogger vudutu said...

I am no chain fan but I don't think it is the devils vomit. Thats pretty strong, in fact don't know if anywhere is that bad, if there is I don't want to try it to find out. I eat there rarely, more in the past, but it's OK, it was close to me and better than the usual garbage fast food stuff in Kenwood. I always thought it was pleasant, bright and clean, parking was easy and I could always find some leftover NYT pages to read.

 
at 2:44 PM Blogger 5chw4r7z said...

Wow, I guess I'm in the minority here, Panera is my wife and my Sunday morning addiction, our favorite one is in Warren, Ohio (as in Trumbull County). Thats not really practicle so we really love the one in University Heights now. The one in Hyde Park has the worst service in the world so we avoid it like the plague.
I think the biggest thing we like is we can spread the paper out and kill a few hours.

 
at 10:18 AM Anonymous **Jennifer** said...

Panera is OK, I ADORE their egg souffle things with artichokes and spinach. The bagels are not great, Marx is the best in this area, but I rarely make the drive to Kenwood for it.

 
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