Soup’s On At Panera [Unless You're Vegan]

by Sarah on December 18, 2012 · 6 comments

Let’s talk soup.

did any of you watch 'talk soup' before it became 'the soup'? i didn't. but i don't watch it now, either.

Hard-skinned squash and warm stews and soup in winter are what sweet, ripe melon and crisp garden veggies are to me in summer: foods I could eat every hour, every minute of the day.

[And really, the whole 'throw the season in there for analogy purposes' tactic was just to make that turn of phrase sound better. I'd eat any of those things any time of year. I'm not a 'soup is only for the winter' kind of person.]

and some of the best soups are MADE for summer, anyway: hello, gazpacho

It doesn’t even have to be fancy. I have been known to say, “I could really just use a big bowl of warm broth right now.”

i have never actually done this. but it is only a matter of time.

But it is getting colder, and as someone who hates to be cold–unless there is a fireplace and a warm blanket involved–soup is even more sacred this time of year.

So, when I was offered the chance to sample any of Panera’s soups, I did not hesitate.

After all, I have loved Panera ever since I first encountered a Cinnamon Crunch bagel in North Carolina when I was a small child, and any excuse to go there was welcome. :)

this is blatantly violating the 'please only take photos in your personal space' request.

Of course, I hadn’t been to eat at Panera since I became the slightly lactose intolerant vegan with benefits* I am today, and I was a little disheartened–to be honest–by my options.

*How’s THAT for a label?

the company is so psyched about soup they have a separate site for 'em

Although every soup on the menu is created with the philosophy of ‘good goes in,’  (and the Chicken & Wild Rice is one of my favorite soups EVER from my pre-herbivore days) and there are usually half of the daily offerings being vegetarian options, two of the constants–broccoli cheddar and creamy tomato–have heavy doses of dairy.I had wanted to try the new Vegetarian Garden Vegetable w. (nut free!) Pesto, but the evening I went, the only one I could choose was the Black Bean.

i do so love their holiday packaging.

Not that that was really so bad, of course. The Vegetarian Black Bean is thick, creamy and perfectly seasoned with a slight southwestern kick. It might not be beautiful, but it is filling, hearty, and–thanks to the very visible calorie counts on the menu* I know it is one of the lower calorie options.

*Although, be forewarned that these do not distinguish among such facts as that avocado in a Cobb salad is great for you, but, naturally, higher in calories.

As part of the Daily Buzz Food opportunity, I was given the option to choose just a soup, or combine it with a You-Pick-Two meal. The more food I can taste the better in my opinion, so I obviously went that route.The vegetarian salads are pretty boring, so I went with a sandwich. Mediterranean Veggie is one of only three–unless you count the PB&J from the kid’s menu–vegetarian sandwiches (and the others are straight up grilled cheeses). I asked for no feta to make it vegan. The Peppadew peppers, cucumbers, tomato, and lettuce aren’t all that special, but I just love the tomato basil bread it comes on–soft and chewy with a tougher crust, perfect for ripping apart and soup-dipping--and the cilantro hummusuniquely flavored, creamy and slightly seasoned–slathered inside so much that I don’t care.

Plus, I got extra pickles. So I was happy. :)

Although I wish there were more non-dairy veg-friendly menu items, I do applaud the creativity of Panera’s sandwiches, and their attempts to make seasonal menu changes. [I'd be all over the Roasted Turkey Harvest Salad in my omnivore days.]

Also, their seasonal packaging really is just so darn cute.Thanks for a soup-er dinner, y’all. :)

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I was selected to review one of the soups from Panera’s menu in exchange for a stipend. Although I was compensated for this review, all expressed opinions above are of my own.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table December 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

I don’t know if I love or hate when restaurants post calorie counts. When IHOP did it, it scarred me for life. Lol!

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Allie December 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

Duuuuude, I love Panera’s black bean soup. Like, an -I will attack the people in front of me in line if they don’t stop staring at the menu and just hurry up and order already- kind of love. But I agree, the veggie selection, especially in terms of sandwiches and salads, is a little lackluster. Would you like a bowl full of iceberg lettuce, or two slices of bread full of iceberg lettuce? But between soup and bagels, I keep going back :)

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Heather @ Better With Veggies December 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I’m with you – what you ordered is pretty much the only vegan-friendly option they have. It’s good, but more variety at a soup and sandwich place would be great. Especially with how many people are lactose-intolerant, how easy would it be to grab non-dairy alternatives? :)

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Brittany @ Delights and Delectables December 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I love Panera’s black bean soup, but you are right… there isn’t many vegan options available. It’s a little annoying, especially when it’s not black bean soup day!
I have been loving soups right now… it is so cold here!!!

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Jeanine December 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Before becoming vegan, I loved Panera but now if I go there the only soup options, like you said, are the veggie (minus the pesto) and the black bean. And, I have to remember when ordering the Mediterranean veggie/hummus sandwich to skip the feta and swap out the bread for one of the 4-5 vegan bread options. Really wish there were more vegan friendly options. Last time I forgot to tell them to hold the feta and the sandwich maker looked none too pleased when I asked him to make me a new one. Oops!

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Tt in nyc December 21, 2012 at 12:13 am

I have actually never been to panera… But maybe your input and feedback about vegan options will be heard via your “connections” ;)
Good vegan soup is hard to come by- glad i mastered my favorites but it would be great to see more options in national chains.

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