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

Posted Dec 18 2012 9:18am

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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