- We tried six different soups from Panera Bread, including the famous broccoli cheddar and bistro French onion, and ranked them according to taste.
- Dip-ability was also taken into account, i.e. how well the soup coats and compliments the accompanying bread.
- After careful deliberation, a winner was chosen – and it may surprise certain Panera loyalists.
Ah, Panera Bread. Is there anything better than walking inside its doors to the smell of fresh foccacia, that giant menu overhead, and those hungry online customers pushing their way to the pick-up counter?
Panera was a staple of my college diet, a beacon of lunch hope that promised fresh sandwiches, coffee, and – you guessed it – soups. Especially around this time of year, Panera’s soups hit the spot: a good broccoli cheddar on a snowy day can cheer up even the bluest of winter blues.
But out of all of Panera’s soups, which one reigns supreme? I trekked to the Panera Bread in Union Square, New York, to find out. They had six soups on their menu (note: soup options vary slightly from store to store). I ordered and tasted them all, and the outcome may surprise certain Panera enthusiasts.
As I made my way to Panera, I started to get a bit nervous about ordering so many soups. Would they think I was a weird soup lady, on a mission to drain the store of any and all savoury liquid? Maybe (and that’s partially true) …
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- But the cashier was very accommodating. She even let me use Panera’s You Pick Two option, which lowered the prices of the soups by grouping them in pairs. You Pick Two also includes a free piece of Panera’s French baguette per meal, and since I had three meals (a total of six soups), I got three hearty hunks of bread.
- Elated, I found a seat, and a server brought the soups to my table a few minutes later.
First up: the famous broccoli cheddar
This time around was no different. The soup delivered its signature cheesy goodness, and generous pieces of broccoli and carrots made for scrumptious texture and taste. Panera’s broccoli cheddar is like a broccoli casserole but only the good part, the part we all love, without the unnecessary bread on top.
Which brings me to the free baguette, the soup’s perfect partner. When dipped, it sopped up an appropriate amount of liquid and tasted harmonious. Broccoli cheddar is definitely the soup to beat at Panera.
I associate chicken noodle soup with being sick, so its taste-potential is often overlooked – if not completely ignored – in my mouth. But Panera’s chicken noodle soup may have just broke the mould.
It’s expertly salted, with large noodles, tender chicken, and veggies. The carrots and green onions amped up the flavour, and there’s just a lot of every ingredient. I could get used to eating chicken noodle soup when I’m healthy, if it tasted like this every time.
I really didn’t know what to expect from baked potato soup, but when it arrived, it somehow made sense. The texture is that of a potato: dense, starchy, and quite chunky. And the soup tastes like an actual loaded baked potato, replete with bacon bits and an assortment of veggies.
The flavour was great, but the soup itself veered on the thicker side. If you’re in a true soup mood, or if you’re a soup purist, this may not be the best option for you at Panera.
Bistro French onion
French onion soup is an exercise in performative opulence: there’s the breaking of the cheesy top coat, and then the spoon-pulling of stringy, gooey, melted cheese – and this is not to mention the layers of sautéed onions beneath the surface.
Suffice it to say, I had high expectations for Panera’s rendition of the classic dish, but they were not quite met. The flavour was nice and onion-y, but the consistency of the soup was a bit too watery (and strong) for my taste. There also wasn’t enough cheese. Then again, there’s never really enough cheese …
Though I’m a huge fan of tomato soup, I’m not afraid to admit that many iterations of it can end up tasting like somebody juiced a tomato and put that in a bowl. Many tomato soups teeter on the verge of being too salty, too acidic, or too watery.
Panera’s creamy tomato soup was none of those things. In fact, it was wonderful: a smooth, addictive blend of rich tomato flavour and garlic spices. I kept trying to move on to the next soup, but I found myself dipping more and more of my baguette into the creamy concoction.
Finding this soup was like falling in love. I immediately imagined our future together, late nights in my living room with grilled cheese nearby. Creamy tomato was a tough act to follow.
With morale still high, I tasted my sixth and final soup. It had, as one might imagine, many vegetables: tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, onions, corn, carrots, celery, spinach, poblano peppers, garlic, seasoned vegetable stock, chickpeas, sprouted brown rice and red fife, dried Aleppo chilli, and a lemon wheel, to be exact.
What happened with this soup is what happens when you blend too many paint colours together – the final product just kind of ends up being, well, nothing. Dark brown. The flavours get jumbled, and our taste buds get confused.
Though this soup is super healthy (with the lowest calorie count of all the soups on the Panera menu) as well as brothy, it wasn’t my favourite. And the lemon wheel added some bitter acidity to the mix, which the soup didn’t really need.
The final ranking
1. Creamy tomato
2. Broccoli cheddar
3. Chicken noodle
4. Baked potato
5. French onion
6. Ten vegetable
The reason creamy tomato emerged victorious
In the end, it came down to two soups competing for the number one slot: broccoli cheddar (aka “old faithful”) and tomato soup (aka “the new kid on the block”). The decision was tough, but ultimately, the new kid won my heart.
Panera’s creamy tomato soup came out of nowhere with its bold, delicious, near-perfect tomato flavour, and I highly recommend it to any soup aficionados out there. It’s the best tomato soup I’ve tasted at a restaurant, and it beats any store-bought kind I’ve cooked in the past.
Though the broccoli cheddar loyalists of the world may disagree, creamy tomato soup might just be Panera Bread’s unsung hero.
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