Alternatives to Panera Bread (Which I Still Hate)

Locro de papas, de mi casa

Since I posted about how much I despise Panera Bread, I’ve gamely attempted to try their food again. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked. Every time I go in there, resolute in my decision to finally slurp up a bowl of soup, the indignity of it all just overwhelms me. I cannot pay almost five dollars for a ladleful of mediocre soup. For five dollars, I can make my own damn soup – five times as much as Panera’s serving offers – and it will taste infinitely better. So I leave, empty belly intact.

Last night, Xavier and I went to Hartsfield International Airport to hang out for a while. Not because we’re terrorists getting the lay of the land, or because we particularly enjoy riding Marta. It was because our friends were in town. Catae and Andre had a layover en route to their fabulous vacation, and we were very excited to see them for the first time since the summer.

It was a little bit like that movie “The Terminal,” I’d imagine, although I’ve never seen the movie. Xavier and I couldn’t go past security without boarding passes, so our friends had to come out to the atrium. After a while of chatting out there, we were somewhat hungry. There has been a lot of noise lately about airport food increasing in quality. Atlanta is apparently adding fine-dining restaurants for classy travelers. When you’re stuck in the atrium, though, these places are not options. After surveying the fast-food options, it became clear that the only reasonable place for us to dine was the Atlanta Bread Company.

The Atlanta Bread Company is a local rip-off of Panera Bread. It’s nearly identical from the business model (order at counter while being deluged with display of shiny pastries) to menu (you-pick-two served with a chunk of baguette ring a bell?). I was hungry and the only other option was Panda Express, so I decided to swallow my pride, hoist my sense of wonder, and check it out.

I settled on the you-pick-two, and the only obvious choices were French onion soup and a California avocado sandwich. The cashier seemed a little confused throughout the ordering process, so it was hardly surprising when my sandwich came out on the bread that Xavier wanted, and Xavier’s bread was completely wrong. Regardless, I opened my mouth and tried to judge the food on its own merit.

The baguette served with the meal was flavorless and cottony. There was no textural contrast between crust and crumb. Winner? Panera.

French onion soup? Passable. A little too salty, a little light on onion. It had body, but not too much. The Asiago cheese garnish, like that at any fast-food cafe, melted into the broth and stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Winner? There is none. Panera Bread and Atlanta Bread Company have tied.

My favorite part of the meal was the California avocado sandwich, a vegetarian option. It did not arrive in the condition it had been promised to me. Onion-tomato foccacia had been replaced with Asiago cheese bread, and although I’d requested no onions, a few limp rings lingered between the tomato and provolone slices. But the avocado  was plentiful and perfectly ripe, and its flavor cut perfectly with dill mayonnaise. This bread, unlike the baguette, was perfect. Winner? Atlanta Bread Company. By a long shot.

So in the bracket battle of chain cafe/bakeries, Atlanta Bread Company, because in what could have been a tie, ABC came out on top by feeding me an entire avocado smashed between two delicious slices of bread. A perfectly ripe avocado can beat pretty much anything edible, except perhaps bacon.\

I’m willing to review other establishments that are like Panera or Atlanta Bread Company. Anyone have ideas?

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