Fast Times

Sampling the Summer Menu at Panera Bread

Hot weather does not stimulate my appetite. The other day I was hungry, and driving around aimlessly, but nothing appealed to me. I passed restaurant after restaurant, in strip mall after strip mall, and nothing piqued my interest. Burgers? Too heavy. Chinese? Not in the mood. Grocery store? Too much assembly required. I had just about resigned myself to going home and eating a bowl of cereal when I caught the sign for Panera out of the corner of my eye. I loved the idea of a fresh, crisp salad, so I decided to go for it.

But you know what they say about best laid plans!

I always intend to order the salad ... until I remember how much I love simple carbohydrates, and then order the pasta. With bread. And why not a creamy soup for the dunking of the bread? The problem is not lack of willpower, but long lines that give me too much time to give in to temptation.

Panera Bread was advertising several new summer items: a strawberry, poppyseed, chicken salad; a shrimp roll; pesto sacchettini pasta; a sweet, summer corn soup. I liked the sound of pesto, and I can never resist a yummy corn soup, so I ordered both items to go and opted for a side of fresh baked Panera baguette.

Given that my appetite was already on the low side of the scale, I can't say that the pasta really wowed me at all. The pesto was a little oily, and combined with the cheese, felt awfully heavy; the freshness from the basil was not enough to lift and brighten the dish on its own, especially given that the pasta was overcooked and gummy. Too rich and hearty for summer, this dish is far better suited to comfort food--basil alone does not communicate summertime.

The sweet summer corn soup, while delicious, suffered from similar problems. Between the creamy base and the chunks of tomato it didn't feel quite "summery" enough for a hot, June day. I loved the sweetness, with a hint of heat behind it, but it just felt too heavy--and so did I, after eating it. I can't quite remember the last time I said this, and meant it, but ... I should have ordered the salad.

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Christina Uticone