Fearless Vegan

Restaurant Guide: Panera Bread
11 July, 2010, 4:53 pm
Filed under: restaurants, vegan

Truth be told, there are not very many good vegan items on the menu at Panera. Key words: on the menu. But with a little knowledge behind the counter and a little creativity, you can get a fantastic vegan meal here.

First off, the breads. The following are vegan: Sourdough, French Miche (not baguette), Country, Stone-Milled Rye, and Sesame Semolina.  Reasons why the other ones are not?  The Asiago and Three Cheese (Demi/Loaf/Miche) obviously have dairy, and the Whole Grain Baguette/Loaf/Miche, Honey Wheat, and White Whole Grain/Kid’s Bread have honey. The rest–french baguettes, all bagels–have [distilled] mono- and/or di-glycerides listed as an ingredient. Mono- and di-glycerides are emulsifers used in baking that can come from fully hydrogenated animal fat. However, it can be vegan (made from vegetable fat, as found in some vegan cheeses), and I am currently investigating where Panera’s bakeries source this ingredient. Until further notice, I assume that it is from animal fat and therefore not vegan.

And next, soups. Panera offers two vegetarian/vegan soups, on alternating days.  The Black Bean is a personal favourite. The Garden Vegetable is also vegan. Recently, Panera modified this soup to be Garden Vegetable with Pesto; the pesto has dairy in it, but is added separately, so you can just ask for the soup without it (it will look like a little green blob in the middle of your soup, if you want to check for sure).  And good news, you can upgrade to that sourdough bread bowl. Not only is it delicious, but it is very vegan.

As for sandwiches, the only menu option is the Mediterranean Veggie Cafe Sandwich without feta or a PB&J on one of the aforementioned vegan breads. You can also customize a sandwich any way you want it with veggies (cucumbers, avocado, field greens, and peppadew peppers are a few personal favourites). The only sauces that are vegan are hummus and mustard (but if you want mustard, I recommend adding it yourself from a package at the condiment station, as it gets quite messy on the sandwich line and oftentimes globs of mayo end up in the mustard).

As for salads, the Strawberry Poppyseed summer salad is vegan. For once, Panera has added a salad that doesn’t automatically come with meat, so you’re not paying more for meat you’re not getting (one thing that has always irritated me). The Tomato Mozzarella Salad can also be vegan; the mozzarella is added separately from the marinated tomato/cucumber/onion mix. As for dressings, the following are vegan: Balsamic, Poppyseed, Fuji, Asian, and Greek (although this one has MSG, vegan but awful).  Any signature salad can be customized to be vegan, simply take away the meat and serve with any of the above dressings.  Another insider recommendation: order it as a Classic Cafe Salad, but made like the __ Salad without the chicken/bacon/meat and/or cheese.  Fill in the blank with whatever salad you like. This will make it so that you’re not paying an extra two dollars for meat that you’re not eating (and an industry you don’t want to support).  Also make sure to avoid the croutons and the wonton strips, as both have dairy.

For a side, choose an apple or chips.  The french baguette, as previously mentioned, features distilled monoglycerides.  If you really want bread, though (for soup dipping and such), simply ask for a slice of another bread as a side.  A slice of sourdough goes wonderfully with the Black Bean soup.

None of the pastries or cookies are vegan, so need to even fret.  It’s a good thing, because they are really bad for you anyway.

As for drinks, there is coffee and tea, of course. I recommend faking a deadly lactose allergy if you order a latte simply to make sure your soy milk is steamed using very clean tools (this isn’t necessarily specific to Panera, I would do this anywhere that serves cow milk). A nice thing about Panera is that they don’t charge extra for soy milk like most other cafes. For flavored lattes, all syrups are vegan (although not necessarily healthy), except for caramel .  The frozen mango drink is vegan (without whipped cream) and all of the smoothies can be made the same way, without yogurt (strawberry or black cherry).

My favourite meal is the black bean soup with a scoop of the black bean and roasted corn mix that they put on the BBQ chopped chicken salad and a customized sandwich on sourdough or sesame with field greens, avocado, and the marinated tomato/cucumber/onion mix from the tomato mozzarella salad. For a drink, the black cherry smoothie without yogurt.


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