I've been a fan of Panera for about 9 years. One day my wife took me for breakfast, and I was hooked after I had some of their fresh bagels. As I continued to go there, I branched out to their lunch menu and desserts. So this weekend when my wife suggested that we grab some lunch at Panera, I happily obliged.
Panera is a fast food-ish style restaurant. You place your order with a cashier, you get your own drinks, you pick-up your food, and bring it to your table. The food is prepared quickly, and once you're done eating, you are supposed to clear your table, and throw away your trash. But on top of this you're supposed to separate the trays, plates, and utensils too! (I don't mind throwing away my stuff, but separating the plates and utensils?? Really?? Where am I? Add a sink, and I'm at my house!)
My wife and I placed our orders, grabbed a seat, and waited for our food. Panera is decorated with relaxing colors and features -- they even have a fire place. This establishment sorta looks like Starbucks would, if it started offering a full menu. In addition, they offer free WiFi. This is a huge advantage over Starbucks, and is why I spent many hours here when I first moved to the area, because I didn't have DSL yet. Needless to say, by the time I left I was hopped-up on cookies and coffee!
But this time, cookies and coffee were not in the cards. And I ordered a Pick Two option of 1/2 soup and 1/2 sandwich. I opted for the Turkey Artichoke Sandwich and the Broccoli Cheddar soup.
Once the food arrived, I took a bite of my sandwich. The Turkey Artichoke sandwich consists of "Smoked turkey, spinach artichoke spread, Asiago-Parmesan cheese, tomatoes & caramelized onions, grilled hot on our Focaccia." Not only does it smell amazing, but it is delicious and is easily a notch or two above standard fast food. There is plenty of turkey, and a the toasted focaccia bread adds another dimension to this sandwich.
However, it's the Broccoli Cheddar Soup that makes me come back every time -- yes, it is that good. It is rich, creamy, and cheesy. Also, it's some of the best broccoli cheddar soup that I've ever had. I love to dip pieces of the accompanying baguette into the soup and then eat it all up.
Also, I thought that I'd point out that the Panera website (link below) has an amazing amount of nutrition information. I was able to find out that this meal is about 560 Calories. Not great -- but not too shabby either! In my opinion -- DEFINATELY worth the calories.
Service: 2/5 (Staff are friendly, but sorting out my plates is worthy of -1 point)
Price: $ (Just under $10)
Kid Friendly: Yes. They have a kids menu, and according to the Panera website was "named 'One of the 10 Best Fast-Casual Family Restaurants' by Parents® magazine in its July 2009 issue."
Conclusion: Fast food service, but food and atmosphere are much better than standard fast food. Their Broccoli Cheddar soup is what keeps me coming back.
Panera Bread Company (#1217)
Shops at Northcross (Across from the Staples)
9905 Knockando Drive
Huntersville, North Carolina 28078