These Three New Sandwiches Aren't Panera's Best Effort

The fast casual café chain is now serving three types of toasted footings, and boy, are they something.

I haven't been to a Panera Bread in ages, so I don't really know what the soup, salad, and sandwich café has been up to in recent years. I do know that it recently launched a new line of toasted baguettes, though. Big, chewy, behemoth baguettes stuffed with buffalo chicken, pizza toppings, melted caprese salad, respectively. I know that because I saw a commercial for these French footlongs while watching football and immediately wanted one. It was then that I realized I am fatefully stupid, forever doomed to purchase the products targeted at me during sporting events. Neat!

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This was for real my first time in a Panera Bread in 10 years. And man, it is quiet in there. Has it always been this quiet? I walked into the Glendale, California location and felt like I was interrupting a family funeral. Maybe it was the soft piano playlist, but damn, it was calm in there. Almost in a boring way, though. Like purgatory, but also you can get salad in a bread bowl while you're waiting.

I'm also just not used to seeing a fast casual chain have its shit together. It is very clean inside of Panera Bread, and a whole army of people are working behind the counter preparing the food. I definitely see the appeal of ordering a coffee here and getting some work done, or just hanging out and eating a salad. It's orderly, quiet, well staffed, clean, and organized—but does that translate to good sandwiches? Let's get into it.

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Smoky Buffalo Chicken Melt

This toasted sandwich features smoked chicken, buffalo sauce, American cheese, and thinly sliced red onions on Panera Bread's signature baguette, and it's abysmal. The chicken was slimy and had such an unnerving texture that I swear to God I had to double-check to make sure that it wasn't egg whites.

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If Panera Bread made a breakfast baguette, that thing would sell. This buffalo chicken one, though, wouldn't be sold at any respectable regional sandwich shop across the country. It's just bad, man.

The smoked chicken is certainly microwaved and full of moisture, and the American cheese isn't applied in any notable quantity. The buffalo sauce is nice, but it's buffalo sauce—impossible to fuck up. All that nasty stuff to be said, I do like Panera's baguettes. The bread was nice and chewy, yet toasty on the outside, and provided nice tang. (I'm also a bread simpleton—I still love heavily processed things like Wonder Bread.)

The problem with this toasted baguette sandwich isn't the bread. It's everything inside of it.

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Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt

Unfortunately, the teeanger in me who has bad acne and watches professional wrestling every week loves this sandwich. This has "school lunch pizza boat" written all over it, just made with better bread.

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That's actually my only reasonable critique of this thing: There's too much baguette, not enough filling. It's made with a fontina/mozzarella blend, pepperoni, and red sauce, but skimps on all three. I found myself discarding the top half of the baguette and eating this thing like a pizza boat. As a sandwich, it isn't very good. As a pizza boat? Okay, we're on the right track.

Green Goddess Caprese Melt

This is made with peppadew peppers, fresh mozzarella, grated parmesan, basil, arugula, green goddess dressing, garlic aioli, and salt and pepper. Sounds nice, right? I think so, too—the only problem is that it's toasted.

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Warm arugula and basil that's melted alongside mayonnaise and mozzarella just don't produce a great texture. Warm lettuce is no good. That said, the flavors of the green goddess Caprese melt work quite nicely. The dressing is herby and tangy, and the aioli provides a nice wallop of fat. Even the arugula and fresh basil are nice! This would be great served cold. Leave the Caprese out of the oven where it belongs.

The circumstances that would need to arise in order for me to eat these Panera sandwiches again 

Something I think about after eating bad food is: What would have to happen in order for me to ever eat this again? I would actually go back and get the Green Goddess Caprese Melt in a pinch, I'd just order it cold. For around ten bucks, that's not a bad deal at all. To eat the Pepperoni Mozzarella Melt, though, I'd have to be body-swapped with an acne-ridden teenager in order to feel comfortable being seen eating this thing ever again. To order another Smoky Buffalo Chicken Melt, I would need to be going through some sort of messy divorce, hanging out at Panera for six hours a day because I've been kicked out of the house.

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