Saturday, September 29, 2012

Panera Bread Media Event in Mission Viejo

Panera Bread
25523 Marguerite Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92692

I love sharing what I do with others. This was the case on this visit to the brand new Panera Bread in Mission Viejo. Katie is my usual plus one when we attend events, but she has a regular 9-5 weekday job, so she has a hard time making some of the lunch events. Plus she was out of vacation/sick days by like February. So I needed a substitute guest to attend this Panera event with me. I could think of no one better, than my Mom to join me. I had never been to a Panera Bread before, but my Mom has, but only for breakfast. She was excited to see what they offer after the morning hours.

We got to Panera Bread just before 1. This Mission Viejo location had only been open four days when we showed up, but the restaurant was packed. The word has definitely gotten out about this place, and only four days in! This location shares a building with a Chipotle, and a parking lot with Walgreen's and a California Pizza Kitchen. It used to be an old Blockbuster, but it does not resemble a video store anymore. The restaurant is deceptively large. Plenty of two person tables dominate the dining area. The colors are bright and inviting.

Also inviting are all the baked goods that you pass on the way up to the ordering area. I was surprised with all of the different varieties that they offer. Most bakeries shelves are all empty by lunchtime, but the shelves at Panera were full. If there is anything left over at the end of the night, it is donated to a local charity. In the case of this Mission Viejo location, they give to the food pantry at Saddleback Church.

Who says you can't have dessert first? The good folks over at Panera Bread brought us out a large assortment of baked goods to start. I was very partial to the Pecan Braid and the Cinnamon Roll. Both were very sweet, with the cinnamon roll really living up to its name by having a lot of cinnamon on the inside of it. I would not hesitate to get these both again. The item I was most surprised by was the Pumpkin Pie Bagel. I always refer to bagels as a poor man's donut. I have never really been a big fan of the heavy dough, non-sweet bagel. This bagel has changed my mind. This bagel is flavored with pumpkin pie spice and pumpkin flakes, then topped with a cinnamon crunch topping. My Mom was so impressed with this bagel, she went right up to snatch the last one that they had.

Man can't live on baked goods alone, so it was time to bring on the sandwiches. Up first was one of Panera's best sellers, the Bacon Turkey Bravo Sandwich. This sandwich came with smoked turkey breast, bacon, smoked Gouda, lettuce, tomato, and their signature dressing, on a tomato basil bread. The first bite, I realized how special this bread was. Full of flavor, but not as crusty as I thought it would be. It also held the contents of the sandwich well. The produce was fresh, and complimented the meats and cheese nicely. This was paired up with their Broccoli Cheddar Soup. This is a pretty solid soup. Very smooth tasting, without big hunks of broccoli in it. I can imagine eating this on a cool fall night, if we have any cool nights in our future.

We really must have been in a turkey mood because the next two sandwiches we got also featured turkey. The Roasted Turkey and Cranberry Panini might be new to the Panera menu, but we spied a lot of people ordering this one throughout the restaurant. I liked this sandwich because it was so stuffed with turkey. It literally had turkey falling out of the sandwich. The cranberry added a nice little sweet surprise in some bites, while the garlic and herb cheese spread added a nice zing to the sandwich. The Roasted Turkey and Avocado BLT had my name written all over it when I saw it on the menu. All of my favorites were on this sandwich, which came on a very sturdy sourdough bread. Basic sandwich, but really hit the spot.

Taking a break from the sandwiches, we also got to sample the Mac and Cheese and Sonoma Chicken Stew. I am really picky about my macaroni and cheese. It takes a lot to impress me. This one did a good job of it. Panera's version is made of Vermont White Cheddar cheese, and poured over shell pasta. The result was a smooth, kind of understated version of mac and cheese. The item that really captured our hearts was the Sonoma Chicken Stew. This had a great homey taste to it. We could imagine buying this, taking it home, and filling pie shells with it to create our own chicken pot pies. This seasonal stew combined chicken, leeks, carrots, onions and celery, with a very creamy sauce. It was also served with a cheese biscuit in the middle of it, which was good for dipping. Again, we long for cooler nights where we can curl up and sip on this wonderful stew.

When I saw Cuban Chicken Panini on the menu, I had to have it. I am a real sucker for Cuban sandwiches. This one was a little different. It did not have roasted pork, but used chicken instead, to go along with the lean ham, sweet and spicy pickle chips, Swiss cheese, mayo, and sun dried ale mustard. An interesting take on the Cuban sandwich. I have been back to Panera one time after this, and this was the sandwich that I got. It is very balanced, with the saltiness of the ham, the smooth Swiss, and the tanginess of the mustard and pickles. The French Onion Soup was paired with this. Not as cheesy as some french onion soups can be, this one also did not taste like a salt lick. I usually stay away from this soup because most restaurants over salt this very easily.

I definitely needed to end my meal with one more thing, the perfect ending to the afternoon, the Chocolate Duet with Walnut Cookie. This cookie also included white chocolate and semi sweet chunks of chocolate. Not too crunchy, and not overly soft, this cookie really had a pleasant texture, and was the great end to a wonderful afternoon of food.

My first visit to Panera Bread could not have gone any better. All the food was great, but the baked goods was where it is at! All of them were so good, I had to sign up for a MyPanera Card, which is their version of a rewards card. You can sign up for it, or get more information about the program here: We have already been back for dinner one night, and have plans to go again soon.

Both my Mom and I really had an excellent afternoon at Panera Bread. It gave us some quality time together, and showed her what it was like going to these food events and what it entails. Special thanks go out to everyone at Panera Bread. They really made our visit great. Thanks to Panera Bread's, Jenny Lynch for making sure we got to try everything our hearts desired. Hope she has a great trip to Europe. One last thank you goes to Jocelle Untalan, from Fleishman-Hillard for the invite. We really enjoyed ourselves, and that was due to your hospitality Jocelle.

For more information on Panera Bread, check out their web site here:

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