Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Panera depends on its bread

By Mary Sanker
Enquirer contributor

        Many bread shops evolve into delis and cafes offering soups, salads, desserts and, of course, sandwiches that showcase their breads. I don't know if Panera began that way, but the menu demonstrates that pattern.

        There are eight Panera bakery-cafes sprinkled around Greater Cincinnati and ones coming to Crescent Springs and Colerain Township.

        It's fun to eat at a Panera, with its California-Tuscan style overlaid with coffeehouse hip. Those who prefer to eat at home can be trendy at the kitchen table with Panera carryout.

        Sandwiches are the main fare, with a few hot items, including a Cuban pork and ham sandwich ($5.99) that is zipped up with pickles and attractively sports heavy brown grill marks.

        A new location in Hyde Park Plaza was out of the grilled chicken ($5.99) and the portabella and mushroom ($5.79) sandwiches when I stopped by, and had also run out of the rosemary and onion focaccia and Asiago cheese focaccia that are the basis for many other sandwiches, so I made do with sourdough.

        Other than fancy names, such as Sierra turkey, the cold sandwiches are distinguished more by their breads than by their ingredients, which are familiar deli standards.

        Because of the sourdough substitution, it was hard to tell if the Asiago roast beef ($5.79) stands out; otherwise, it is a perfectly adequate roast beef and cheddar cheese sandwich dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion and a touch of horseradish. Even on sourdough the Tuscan chicken is nice, ($5.79), with lightly seasoned grilled chicken, greens, pesto mayo and a balsamic vinaigrette. The Italian combo ($6.19) shouts “deli” with its vibrant meats, cheeses and peppers.

        Panera features several soups daily, with a weekly rotation so you know when your favorite will be served. The low-fat chicken noodle ($2.95) wasn't bad, although the noodles were disintegrating. The broccoli cheddar ($2.95) was more cheese soup than broccoli, and didn't reheat well. Both were too salty.

        A few salads, including Asian sesame chicken salad ($5.79), are available. There is a nice selection selection of brownies, biscotti, cookies and other pastries. And, Panera still sells bread.

        Panera Bakery-Cafe, 3806 Paxton Ave. Hyde Park; 871-1772. Visit for other locations


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