The Panera Bread chocolate chip muffie is an enigma.
It is neither a cookie nor a muffin; it is something mysteriously in-between, such that each bite mimics the cake-like texture of a muffin within the thin, circular frame of a traditional cookie.
Whatever it is, the muffin has been my favorite baked good on the fast-casual café chain’s bakery menu since I was little. Growing up, my mom and I would go to our local Panera when we ran errands together, stopping to rest our legs and cozy up by the store’s fireplace while splitting a muffie.
Thus, when I learned a Panera location was coming to Armstrong, I envisioned myself stopping in-between classes to grab a baked good or sandwich as an afternoon pick-me-up.
I had just one problem: Everyone else had that same great idea.
The first time I attempted a mobile order with Panera, I was notified by GrubHub that Panera had a more than 60-minute wait. A full hour! And they sold out of my chocolate chip muffie!
I decided to go to the café in person, assuming a line of people surely couldn’t be longer than the mobile line.
That is when I learned that Panera is fully-cashiered by GrubHub kiosks.
With a fully-asynchronous ordering model, Panera — unlike our Starbucks locations — does not offer any priority for in-person orders or make it possible to speak with an employee with questions about your order, putting a significant damper on accessibility of the food options.
To work around the crowds, students can opt for Panera runs outside peak hours or plan ahead when they would enjoy Panera.
Unfortunately, the GrubHub ordering system doesn’t let students set pickup times for the future, so it is difficult to decide what time of day to order something.
As far as Panera’s menu goes, the Miami menu features many beloved Panera staples: cookies, bakery items, bread bowls, bagels, sandwiches, soups, salads, specialty coffees and charged lemonades.
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The You-Pick-Two combo, Panera’s most popular lunch option, allows students to get a combination of soup, salad and/or sandwiches to create a filling, healthy lunch. While Panera has neither kosher nor halal options, the menu has a solid variety of vegetarian options, such as their Greek salad or Mediterranean veggie sandwich.
The two You-Pick-Two combos I tried were the caesar salad with white cheddar macaroni and cheese, as well as a roast beef sandwich with white cheddar macaroni and cheese.
My orders were packaged nicely, with my macaroni and cheese and roast beef still warm, and my salad was still nicely chilled at the time I ate my meal.
Panera’s mac and cheese was fantastic and filling for a small cup of pasta, but the salad and sandwich were pretty run-of-the-mill.
The salad and sandwich were both good portion sizes, but for a salad that was essentially just lettuce, dressing, and two croutons, $6 felt like a pretty ridiculous price to pay. At the same time, I ended up with an accidental free cookie in my order, which made my day enough to forget about the $6 basic salad.
Still, Panera may not be worth the cost.
While the quality of the bagels is far better at Panera Bread than its more affordable predecessor, Toasted Bagel, the cost of Panera menu items (You-Pick-Twos are around $14) makes the café somewhat inaccessible to dine at on a regular basis for most budget-conscious college students.
For most of us, Panera will ultimately be a special treat to add some variety every now and then, rather than a daily dining option.
For students interested in checking out Panera Bread, I would recommend waiting until the back-to-school rush passes and wait times mellow out, or learning to watch the GrubHub app.
If you do decide to try Panera Bread, order ahead, pick up your order in a timely fashion, and — I could not encourage this enough — try a chocolate chip muffie