Garden Vegetable Soup in a Bread BowlAs you may have seen previously, Ariel and Jenny both did a taste test of soups from their favorite lunch chain Au Bon Pain. I have to agree that this transition into chilly fall weather has given me major cravings for something warm and comforting. I decided to go for my lunchtime mainstay-Panera Bread (I call it Panera because who really calls it Panera Bread?).
The first soup I tried was their "Garden Vegetable" soup in a bread bowl. The bread bowl is a Panera specialty in which the top of a round sourdough loaf is cut out and soup is poured in using the bread as a bowl. My friend Natalie turned me on to the wonders of the bread bowl back in high school and I have been a faithful fan ever since. The Garden Vegetable soup is packed full of veggies including carrots, onions, potatos, corn, spinach, red pepper, zucchini, tomato, navy beans and lima beans. The vegetarian tomato based broth and the little pearls of pasta give the soup added flavor and texture without being too heavy. The bread soaks up some of the broth, making it easy to scoop up in my spoon with each bite of soup. Delicious, nutritious and filling.Rating: 2.75 out of 3 JAMs (its great, but my Mom's homemade soup is better!)
On my other ventures I tried:
Black Bean: This soup is touted as being low fat and vegetarian. The black beans are simmered in a vegetable broth which tastes of onion and garlic. It's a nice hearty option when you are hungry, but aren't looking for the excess calories. One thing I like about Panera is that a bowl of soup comes with a slice of a baguette in either whole grain or sour dough. I tried the whole grain, which had a nice nutty, slightly sweet and dense interior, and a crusty exterior. It matched up well with the black bean and was great for mopping up leftover broth.
Rating: 2.5 out of 3 JAMs
Creamy Tomato: I should warn you that while this soup may seem like a healthy option, the hefty dose of cream that goes into it, wipes that idea away. I thought the soup was slightly too heavy on the cream (I later looked at the nutrition content and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw how much fat is in this little bowl of soup!). That being said, it is still a nice rich, creamy, slightly tangy and sweet soup that will be sure to melt away those winter blues. It comes with homemade buttery croutons for some added crunch. The sourdough baguette that came with the soup was a perfect compliment. The soft, slighlty tangy interior and the crisp golden crust were perfect. I could eat a whole loaf of this bread its so good.
Rating: 2 out of 3 JAMs
Chicken Tortilla Soup: This soup was a major disappointment. I expected the soup to have a rich broth, with nice spice and meaty, tender chunks of chicken. What I got was small gristly pieces that were hardly edible and a watery broth with little flavor. The pieces of roasted corn, poblano peppers and black beans were tasty, but nothing exciting enough to make up for the other flaws. Rating: .5 out of 3 JAMs
Broccoli Cheddar: Anyone who knew me in highschool knows Ariel and I used to looove this soup. There is just something about that classic combo of broccoli and cheddar cheese that you just can't go wrong with. The soup is creamy, cheesy and has nice chunks of broccoli and strips of carrot. The only problem I've had is that it tends to get runny as it cools down.
Rating: 2.5 out of 3 JAMs
Chicken Noodle Soup: I grew up eating chicken noodle soup as a cold cure, as I am sure a lot of you have. While Campbell's condensed chicken noodle may have a nostalgic place in my heart, there is nothing like homemade. My mom is an awesome cook and has been known to make her own variations on this classic. Now, I knew Panera's soup probably wouldn't hold up to Mom's, I was expecting more. This soup is just plain bland. The chicken broth lacks a strong chickeny flavor. The noodles are heavy and are reminiscent of a dumpling and also seem to disintegrate in the broth, giving it a strange taste and texture. The chicken is nice and tender, but bits of carrots are the only other added ingredient. I was left missing the wonderful aroma of celery, onions, and herbs.
Rating 1.5 out of 3 JAMs
Overall I'd say Panera is a good go-to soup destination when your crunched for time and you are looking for something healthful and light to warm you up. Nothing too exciting, but their bread really makes the meal. Be sure to check out their loaves, rounds, baguettes and bagels!