‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Panera Bread – The lighter side of to-go

Will Watts
Correspondent

Quality ingredients. If that’s important to you, you’ll like our next dining destination is Panera Bread in South Naples.  It’s a tale of two meals, one of utter perfection, and a second that was lacking and made me wonder how both meals could come from the same place.

We ordered online for rapid pickup, and yes, just 10 minutes later are sizable order was done. One of the perks of modern technology. You can also have your food delivered or schedule for curbside pickup.

For night one, I started with soup. All selections come in a cup, bowl or bread bowl. I selected the “Ten Vegetable Soup” in a bowl ($5.69) featuring tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, onions, corn, carrots, celery, spinach, poblano peppers and garlic in a seasoned vegetable stock with chickpeas, sprouted brown rice and red fife and dried Aleppo chili.

It’s like someone took Campbell’s soup and fed it a steady diet of steroids. With a chunk of Panera’s French baguette on the side to collect the yummy stock, I was in soup heaven.

For my main dish, I picked the “Baja Bowl” ($9.19). It’s a Mexican-inspired vegetarian rice and quinoa bowl with black bean and corn salsa, salsa verde, avocado and feta cheese.

This bowl was the highlight of my night. The avocado chunks were huge and the dish, as a whole, was so satisfying.

My dining companion opted for the vegetarian “Autumn Squash Soup” ($5.69) featuring a rich blend of butternut squash and pumpkin simmered in vegetable broth with select ingredients including: honey, apple juice, cinnamon and a hint of curry and finished with sweet cream and topped with roasted and salted pumpkin seeds.

This soup is sweet enough to be dessert, he said. And that’s a good thing.

For his main entrée, he selected the Mediterranean bowl ($9.19) featuring cilantro-lime long-grain brown rice, a mix of red and golden quinoa on a bed of arugula, red grape tomatoes, kalamata olives, diced cucumbers, hummus, a lemon tahini dressing, feta crumbles and whole-milk Greek yogurt with a squeeze of lemon.

This dish earned rave reviews. I highly recommend it.

More:Hey Marco Island, looking for a place to eat?

On this night we also shared a whole Mediterranean veggie sandwich ($5.69) featuring zesty sweet peppadew piquant peppers, feta, cucumbers, emerald greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, red onions, hummus, salt, and pepper on tomato basil bread.

I had never had a vegetarian sandwich before. But let me tell you, with this one, you won’t miss the meat. Yummy!

Our second night of dining was what you might call less successful (and a bit less healthy).

We shared a cheese flatbread ($8.09) featuring a fontina mozzarella blend and tomato bell pepper sauce.

While my dining companion liked it, it tasted like a cheap frozen pizza to me. Harsh, I know. But given how much else they got right; I won’t hold it against them.

We also shared a broccoli cheddar mac and cheese ($9.18) featuring shell pasta in a blend of creamy cheese sauce and tangy white cheddar cheese, simmered with seasoned broccoli and carrots.

This selection was better than the flatbread, but still ranked below the first nights offerings. But here’s the amazing thing, night one was healthier and tasted better. How often does that happen?!

Conclusion: If you’re looking for the more wholesome side of food on the go, you can’t go wrong with Panera Bread.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: The Speakeasy has something for everyone

And:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Familiar face opens new place in Olde Marco

Also:‘Watts for Dinner’ the Takeout Edition: Healthy comfort food at Tropical Smoothie Cafe

This newspaper pays for all meals related to dining reviews. We do not solicit or accept free food.

If you go

Panera Bread

  • 12720 Tamiami Trail E., Naples
  • 239-963-0351
  • panerabread.com