Review: Panera

I am a huge fan of Panera. Ever since I discovered the sweet, sweet goodness of their amazing bread while visiting the Berkshires, I was addicted. I assume this means they lace their baked goods with either cocaine or comparable amounts of high fructose corn syrup, but I do not care. Do you hear me? I love it all the same. I heard a rumor that they were owned by the same folks who own Au Bon Pain, and I desperately hoped they would start replacing some ABP locations with Panera. Because, really, there is no comparison.

So imagine my delight when I saw that one would be moving into the Landmark Center in Kenmore Square, conveniently located right on my way to work.

Actually a lot of stuff seems to be opening there–a Cambridge One recently opened (see my next review), there’s this enormous place that looks sort of fancy called Burtons Grill or something, there’s a Chipotle under construction, and one more spot for lease that’s clearly supposed to be restaurant space.

Anyway, I went to this particular Panera the first time shortly after they opened, and arrived just before the line stretched to a good twenty people. I am not even joking. I was a little off-put by the guy offering paper menus–I can read the board in front of my face perfectly well, thank you very much–but in general the service was quite chipper and friendly.

I ordered the creamy tomato in a breadbowl–which is sort of silly to go, but that’s what I did–and waited a bit for my order. When they finally called my name (and my little beeper thing went off–is that really necessary? I automatically think less of places that use those things) I grabbed my bag and got a few steps before I realized I actually had someone’s sandwich and chips. Luckily that was easily fixed, and I quite enjoyed my soup.

I returned a few days later for breakfast, which thankfully was a much shorter wait, though the place still seemed a bit crowded. This time when my pager went off I got a few steps before realizing I’d been given a sandwich with sausage instead of bacon. This time the guy it belonged to looked at me like I had leprosy, and the Panera staff apologized and told me I could keep it because they couldn’t take it back. (Which I guess I understand, but come on, guy who ordered sausage–all I did was open the wrapper.)

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll go back, but I’m really hoping the novelty wears off and it stops being quite so crowded. (Fresh City hopes so too–they’ve been handing out coupons like nobody’s business, clearly feeling threatened by the competition.) The food is always extremely tasty (as long as they give you the right thing) and I think the selection is impressive. But it’ll be a while before I feel comfortable enough not to flee after picking up my order, because the layout and the massive crowds make me feel pretty claustrophobic.

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