Panera Bread more than lives up to expectations

By By Michael Cooper / American Press

I am an unabashed, unapologetic carb addict. Bread, pasta, pizza and potatoes, these are some of my favorite things.

So I was excited when I was told we were finally getting a Panera Bread in Lake Charles.

I had never been to the restaurant before, never had the chance. But with all the talk and praise the place receives I had

high expectations.

I am happy to report that Panera Bread, which is far more than just a bakery, delivered.

Alex Onken and I tried the place out this week and both left satisfied and full.

Alex ordered half of the tuna classic, a cup of autumn squash soup and a cherry Danish.

He said the soup was good but too sweet and rich for such a large portion. He also said the Danish was good.

I ordered a half of the steak and white cheddar panini sandwich, a cup of cream of chicken and wild rice soup, and a peanut

butter dream cookie.

I have to admit that I didn’t like the sandwich at first. One of my least favorite condiments in the world is horseradish

sauce, and the steak and cheese panini was covered in it. Because I didn’t see the sauce mentioned on the menu, I sent the

sandwich back to the kitchen. To the staff’s credit, they were accommodating and fixed another sandwich, sans horseradish,

and had it out to the table in under 10 minutes.

Without the horseradish, the sandwich

was great. The bread, onion and cheese were good, and the steak, cut

very thin, was

cooked medium to medium rare. It was perfect for me, but I know a

few people who can’t stand the sight of pink in their food.

The soup was the showstopper. It was

thick, creamy and hearty. The little French baguette that came with the

soup was also

amazing. I plan on ordering this every time I go, even though I

have been told that the creamy tomato and bistro onion soups

are equally good.

The cookie was good too — just a little to big for me to finish. It was easily the best peanut butter cookie outside of my

late grandmother’s kitchen.

Our bill was just over $20, not bad for a high-quality lunch break.

I was told by many people to try the mac and cheese dish, but I balked, preferring to save it up for the next time I go. Other

Panera Bread items that my family and friends raved about are the bagels, souffles and breakfast sandwiches.

Expect to spend a little time in line if it’s your first trip because there are a lot of options on the menu.

You can break the restaurant into two parts — bakery and cafe.

In the bakery, they sell whole loaves of bread, bagels, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, pastries, muffins, rolls and scones.

A few of the breads offered: country, French, rye, ciabatta, sourdough and chocolate truffle babka. The bread is baked on-site

every morning and can be sliced to order.

On the cafe side, there are sandwiches, pasta dishes, soups, salads, smoothies and souffles.

Panera Bread also has a decent selection of coffee, hot tea, espresso and iced tea. I really enjoyed the fresh-brewed sweet

tea I had with lunch, and Alex said the acai berry iced tea was good.