Yes, there is such a thing as a free dinner. Last night, we drove over to the new Panera bread store that (allegedly) opened last week. As we walked in, a manager explained that, between 5:00 and 7:00 that evening, every patron (over age 10) would receive 15 Panera dollars to spend at the restaurant, no strings attached! They were conducting employee training and wanted to expose the new hires to rush hour. We received $60.00 for the five of us, more than enough money to buy dinner and lots of dessert.
I had the Portobello Mushroom Panini with a bowl of Broccoli Cheddar Soup. The soup came out hot and cheesy with lots of good broccoli flavor. The boys insisted I share it with them, which I did. The panini was also hot and brimming with cheese; I would have liked more mushrooms in there. My soup came with a baguette on the side, and my sandwich came with an apple. WineGuy ordered roast beef and horseradish on a baguette. The beef was rare, and the dressing was tangy. I saw WineGuy add mayo to his sandwich, so it may have been a bit dry. Wizard ordered the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad, which he loved: leafy, dark greens tossed with a rice wine and sesame vinaigrette and some marinated chicken.
Wild Thing and Moose each had a kid's roast beef sandwich on whole grain white bread. The kids' meals came with a choice of chocolate milk, white milk, or juice. Here I must commend the management team. The description of that whole-grain bread led me to believe there might be seeds on or in it. The manager pulled out the bread book, which lists all the ingredients and potential allergens in each bread product, and reviewed it for me. She also let me look it over to be sure. I really appreciated Panera's taking the time to double-check an allergy issue, even at the height of the dinner hour. With that service and the continual, roving attention of servers and assistant managers, Panera has made me a customer. The food was worlds better than the crappy Calistoga bakery down the street.
Oh, and they have desserts there, too. Wild Thing had a delicious oatmeal cookie filled with raisins. Moose had a decadent chocolate brownie. Wizard had a scrumptious raspberry brownie. WineGuy and I shared a Cobblestone (muffin?) that was a dead-ringer for the rum-buns we treasured at Bish Thompson's restaurant of long-ago DC. I am so going back for a coffee and a Cobblestone next week! We also brought home a strawberry pastry, a coffeecake, a loaf of three-cheese bread, and a loaf of raisin bread to try. All free, of course. The strawberry pastry was forgettable, although the berries were fresh. The coffeecake was pretty good, although it was closer to a danish ring because of the fruit filling. The boys had raisin bread with peanut butter for breakfast today. It smelled and looked yummy. The boys and I had turkey sandwiches on the cheese bread for lunch today: Wizard and I liked it; Moose and WT did not.
Two thumbs up preliminarily for Panera Bread.
Afterwards, we went shopping at the new Wild Oats store in the same shopping center. It was jam-packed on a Saturday night. We ran into a few people we knew. The produce was magnificent: fresh and gorgeous and only slightly more expensive than Publix. The fish department smelled briny and clean, not a hint of fishiness. The fillets were moist and glistening; the whole fish had clear, glassy eyes. The prepared foods looked okay, as did the baked goods. We'll have to sample some at a later time. I'm looking forward trying the goodies on the olive bar, too.
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night! ... in the suburbs wasn't too bad after all.