As if your teenagers need another excuse to go to the mall, now you can send them for fresh bread. Panera Bread, a Missouri-based national chain with close to 1,000 stores nationwide, has launched three bakery-cafés in quick succession in Redmond, Issaquah and at Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood.
According to Lynnwood manager David Cheslek, the company plans 25 stores across the Northwest over the next three years.
The dense, chewy and delicious loaves baked at each store every night form the linchpin of the café's menus, a foundation for hot and cold sandwiches and an accompaniment to soups and salads.
Orders are placed at the counter.
The line moves quickly enough that regulars know to snag a seat by parking a coat — or a friend — at a vacant table before queuing up. Minutes later a pager alerts you that your paper-lined basket of food is ready at the pick-up counter.
Prices are well under $10, even if you select the "You Pick Two" option — half of any sandwich or salad paired with a bowl of any soup ($6.29-$8.29). A hunk of baguette, a sourdough roll, apple slices or kettle chips are among the choice of sides included in the price.
Panera's bakers don't limit themselves to bread. Cakes, cookies, muffins, scones and other pastries tempt as well. Baked egg soufflés — a sweet, buttery pastry shell coddling a quichelike filling of egg, cheese and spinach with artichoke or bacon — are a morning treat ($2.99).
Add great coffee, free Wi-Fi and a gas fireplace, and these cafes could wean you away from the food court forever — or at least until you need a French-fry fix.
Asiago Roast Beef Sandwich:
The Asiago is baked into the loaf, which is split to hold smoked cheddar, good roast beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion and just enough horseradish sauce to make every bite interesting ($6.29 whole).
French Onion Soup: Chunky croutons and shavings of sharp cheese slowly soften and melt into an onion-thickened broth that reveals an impressive depth of flavor ($3.59 ordered separately).
Chicken Bacon Dijon Panini: Crispier bacon would have made this a perfect melt of meat and mozzarella pressed between grilled slices of country white bread brushed with a Dijon mustard spread ($6.59 whole).
Moroccan Tomato Lentil Soup: Forget the spoon. Tomato-rich lentil stew hinting of peppers and exotic spice begs to be scooped up with chunks of baguette. Low fat and vegetarian, too ($3.59 ordered separately).
Greek Salad: Two Kalamata olives, one pepperoncini, crumbled feta and red onion don't really speak fluent Greek to me, but there's a pleasing crunch to the romaine despite a little too much vinaigrette that tastes powerfully of dried oregano.
Very Chocolate Brownie: Emphasis is on the "very" with chocolate buttercream and chocolate sprinkles topping this dense brownie.
Itemized bill, meal for two
"You Pick Two": Asiago Roast Beef Sandwich (half) with French Onion Soup $7.29
"You Pick Two": Chicken Bacon Dijon Panini (half) with Moroccan Tomato Lentil Soup $7.29
Greek Salad $5.79
Very Chocolate Brownie $2.29
Medium soda $1.49
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Panera Bread Bakery-Caf
3000 184th St. S.W. (Alderwood Mall), Lynnwood, 425-774-1416; 17262 Redmond Way, Redmond, 425-497-0727; 775 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah, 425-369-6180
Web site: www.panerabread.com
Hours: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.
No alcohol / all major credit cards / no obstacles to access.