Monday, November 3, 2014

St. Louis Bread Company (Panera)

1075 W. Gannon Dr.
Festus, Mo.
On  the Web

Outside the Metro St. Louis area, this 1800 store franchise is known as Panera Bread. The 101 locations here though, still go by the original name, St. Louis Bread Company.
It's quite a popular lunch or shopping break place. No deep fat fried items, mostly fresh made breads, salads, pastas and soups.
I had recently re-read some earlier reviews, looking for places that I needed to re-evaluate. This one surprised me as I feel as though we'd been there more frequently, but no. Not since 2010.
In that review I summarized by saying essentially that I'd ordered the wrong thing.
Well, time to fix that with a little advanced planning. During the week before this visit, I looked up the menu and made a mental list of things I'd be happier with.
The Place:
I like the idea of SLBC. A quality step up from fast food joints. They are also made for lounging.
Aside from the booths and tables, there are lounge chairs, quiet, cozy nooks that beg to be relaxed in. Grad a small bite, a cup of coffee, some WiFi or a book and just sit back, take a break. Like a coffee house. It has a clean, modern, casual look and feel. The seating area is separated from the ordering and counter area. I want to like SLBC.
We stepped in and up to the  ordering area. My mind went blank. It took me several minutes to readjust, refocus. No panini sandwich, no panini sandwich. . .
Commonly panini are squashed in a George Foreman type grill. I've decided that I didn't want all the ingredients heated, I wanted them fresh and cool. That was rule 1. . . I forgot the other rules. There was a soup that looked good. . . nope don't remember, go for a classic.
I placed my order, Angel placed hers, they handed over my cup. Angel settled up and waited for her lemonade. They also gave her a flashing vibrator. You know, the kind restaurants hand out to alert you when your order is ready.
I found us a table by the window, a four top. The boys, Adam and Larry arrived separately. We were going to a farm supply store afterward and for some reason they weren't interested in doing that. They were also handling their own bills. It's a new arrangement, part of an agreement we reached when Larry moved in. It's not a contentious agreement, just one that is part of the ongoing growing up process.
They would sit with us though.
The Food:
I had poured myself some unsweet tea. It looked clear and fresh. It was pretty good. Angel loves the lemonade, the boys had pop.
The vibrator started flashing and jiggling. At the same time someone behind the counter shouted Angel's name. The redundancy seemed completely unnecessary. No one could ignore the flat, square pager. Angel fetched the food. It looked fresh and clean.
I had ordered a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich and Creamy Tomato soup. The sandwich contained turkey, apple wood smoked bacon, greens, tomato and Gouda cheese doused with a small amount of their 'signature' sauce.
According to some folks who reverse engineer foods, the 'signature' sauce is ketchup based with lemon juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce with a pinch of dried mustard. That sounds about right, it had a zing to it. The bread was their tomato basil bread, which you can also buy by the loaf. It was darker than white bread, a little more orange than wheat.
Angel had originally ordered a Greek salad with some clam chowder, but had been informed that  they were out of the chowder, so she subbed with cheesy broccoli soup. Each of our plates came with a softball sized soft roll. That looked pointless to me, I was already having a sandwich. Angel said it was for the soup, but that didn't make sense either, they'd provided a perfectly good spoon.
I like tomato soup, though I don't have it often as it is not very filling. This soup looked thick, bright and fresh. The sandwich was pretty. Folded deli turkey, bright lettuce, a strip of bacon, all on that slightly tanned bread. It hadn't been smooshed down. Beside it a nice looking, but pointless roll. In fact, when I did try to smoosh the sandwich, things slithered out all sides. I stuffed them back together and again, trying to make it small enough to fit into my mouth caused the slippery innards to act like like-pole magnets and fly apart. I determined that the main problem was the meat. Having been folded, it was not flat. The fold was much thicker than the ends, creating a wedge. The slippery tomato and friction-less lettuce had nothing to stick to, the whole thing was like ice on ice. The crust proved to be yet another problem. It was thick and neither soft nor crisp. It was, as best I can describe it, leathery. It would not compress, it could not be bitten through, I could only engage it in a destructive bout of tug of war. I only tried this once since that tugging caused the sandwich to come completely apart. I finally just ripped the crust off of the remaining mess of a sandwich. Both
Angel and Adam tried the crust, assuming I was exaggerating the problem. In the end, they agreed.
Though  the sandwich ingredients themselves were tasty, mechanically the sandwich was a serious fail. The whole point of a sandwich is convenience. A small one like this you should be able to eat it, stem to stern with one hand while you are holding a book in the  other. Not this one. It took both hands just to keep the thing together.
Angel was quite happy with her salad. "It's a Greek salad." she said, some sort of Greek dressing, some Greek olives, a little pepper. . .  Nothing outstanding, but it was fresh and satisfying. It's hard to screw up a salad. I could say the same about sandwiches, but they proved me wrong. As for the soup, Cheesy Broccoli, She liked it, but was really in the mood for chowder. My soup was good, though it looked like something had curdled a little in it. It may have been tomato pulp, it might have been thin curdles of cream, I couldn't tell, but near the end of the bowl, as the temperature dropped to tepid, it was texturally a little off-putting. There wasn't a lot of food to begin with, but having discarded a lot of the bread and stopping about two thirds of the way into the soup, there was ample room for more. Angel suggested dessert, with coffee. We rarely have dessert when we go out,  but it sounded like a great idea this time.
We headed back to the entry and looked over the pastry offerings. I'm not a fancy guy, I latched on to the cinnamon roll. Angel picked a smaller knotted pastry, a pecan twist. There was more than one style of coffee to choose from, some spicy, sweet concoctions, but also some plain, dark roast. I like a strong, dark coffee, so I filled my mug. Angel got something a little more girly.
The roll was simply gorgeous. All the food at SLBC seems to be made to appeal to the eye. We took our pastries and mugs back to our table and dug in. The cinnamon roll tasted exactly right, just the right combination of cinnamon, sugar, yeasty dough and frosting. I should just leave it at that. I really should, but I can't. the cinnamon roll was pretty dry. It tasted great, but it was very, very, day-old dry. Still better than no cinnamon roll though and the coffee was very good.
I know I sound like  a whiner, but I really, really want to like SLBC. I just can't seem to find any food-reason to go there. Everything I've tried there has ended up being a bit of a disappointment. Not gross, disgusting or awful, just not up to my modest expectations. Even as a lunch destination, I have no real desire to pick SLBC over just about anywhere else. It's disappointing that a Bread Company's cinnamon roll is too dry and a sandwich bread is mechanically impossible to eat.  Is that asking too much?
The place wasn't expensive and I appreciate the less than Texas-sized portions. I like the freshness and clean-ness of the place and the food. I like the smell of baking bread, good coffee and stable WiFi. . .
Maybe this was a series of flukes, a too-old cinnamon roll, an overcooked loaf of tomato basil bread, slipperier then usual meat. . . but I really don't think so. If I were to guess, it is a problem of style over substance. Appearance over function. That's my opinion anyhow.
Angel doesn't agree, she likes the place and the food just fine. So this is really a draw. Maybe I'm just missing something.

Panera Bread on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your assessment. I'd have nothing to recommend SLBC to anyone (that's the only one I've ever been to). It was meh. I can make a nice soup and sandwich meal at home for a lot less.