Panera Bread has been around since 1987 (though under a different name at the beginning). The word "bread" is in the title for good reason; even though the chain serves much more than fresh-baked loaves and pastries, everything they serve really does revolve around their bread products. From comforting, cozy soups that perfectly fill a bread bowl to coffee drinks that pair easily with a morning Danish, if you love bread and all that it's affiliated with, you're in luck at Panera.
But at lunchtime you might want to go with one of their many sandwiches — especially now that they've rolled out some exciting new menu options. Panera Bread is now featuring two new Sourdough Melts, namely the Bacon Avocado Melt and the Southwest Chicken Melt. To celebrate these new offers, Panera decided to give away 1,000 free Sourdough Melts on national "Ditch Your Resolution Day" (aka January 17).
Indeed, carbs are back and better than ever, and so we did a taste test of Panera's new Sourdough Melts to see if they live up to our expectations.
What Are The New Panera Sourdough Melts?
Panera's new Sourdough Melts join the many other sandwiches on the cafe's menu, but are probably going to make the biggest impact. Each sandwich consists of two thick slices of Panera's excellent sourdough (reigning among the best sourdough bread brands ranked by Tasting Table) that are toasted and stuffed with savory fillings. The Bacon Avocado Melt features two showstoppers — the namesake bacon and avocado — while the Southwest Chicken Melt makes use of smoked pulled chicken, red onions, and cilantro. However, both sandwiches share key ingredients that pull everything together: smoked gouda cheese and a mildly spicy chipotle aioli. The components in either sandwich option are very nicely done, and bring out the best in each other.
Since "Melt" is literally an essential selling point, the sandwiches are warm on both the outside and inside, and even a little bit gooey with cheese in certain bites. We strongly dislike a dry sandwich, and these definitely did not let us down.
Availability And Cost
As of now, you can order both of these new Sourdough Melts at any branch of Panera Bread nationwide, and they seem to be permanent menu items. This widespread availability is just another reason to go ahead and give them a try, because if you're impressed, you can get them pretty much anywhere and whenever. However, if you're thinking about relying on these instead of packing lunch anymore, be careful.
They are somewhat pricey: A Sourdough Melt costs $8.99 (though you do get the choice of an apple, chips, or a baguette thrown in to sweeten the deal). Nutritionally, well, it's a sandwich, meaning you've got a nice balance of carbs, fats, protein, and micronutrients. You're getting plenty of protein, that's for sure. The Bacon Avocado Melt has a solid 27 grams of protein, while the Southwest Chicken Melt has a whopping 43 grams! When you factor in the staying power of a hearty sandwich, maybe the cost isn't that bad. It's up to you to decide.
Bacon Avocado Melt
The first Sourdough Melt that we tried was the Bacon Avocado Melt. This sandwich has applewood smoked bacon and avocado, but also smoked gouda, everything bagel seasoning, and a standout spicy chipotle sauce. The good? The flavors were all very strong and worked so well together — the smokiness of both the gouda and the bacon elevated each other, making for a very satisfying combination. The fresh avocado cut through that smokiness and brought almost a buttery texture and flavor. Lastly, the chipotle aioli was really something. It wasn't spicy enough to overpower the rest of the sandwich, but the mild heat certainly kicked it up a notch.
The bad? The sandwich was seriously under-filled. Maybe that was just this one time at this one location, but it was it bit of a letdown. Also, we were a little disappointed to find that the Panera sourdough bread on this sandwich was only very, very lightly toasted, which threw the whole texture off and made the melt feel slightly gummy. It didn't help that so many of the elements to the sandwich were creamy — avocado, aioli, cheese — meaning it really needed some toasty crispiness from the bread.
Southwest Chicken Melt
We weren't expecting as much from the Southwest Chicken Melt as we were from the Bacon Avocado Melt. Come on, how can you beat bacon, especially when paired with ever-trendy avocado? But somehow, the Southwest Chicken Melt edged ahead as our favorite sandwich on the Panera Bread menu. This melt presents a winning combination of pulled chicken, red onion, cilantro, smoked gouda, and chipotle aioli.
Once again, this sandwich was woefully under-toasted, but at least it wasn't under-filled! No, this time the Sourdough Melt was bursting with ingredients, which we really appreciated. The chicken tastes miraculously juicy, but still seriously meaty. The red onion adds a bracing bite and nice crunch. Our favorite element was the fresh cilantro. If you're a cilantro hater, you can always request that it is left off the sandwich — but if you're a cilantro fan, we highly recommend that you request extra. Overall, this Southwest Chicken Melt was a delicious, hefty sandwich with a taste that was far more than the sum of its parts.
Sourdough Vs. Regular Bread
Since the sourdough part of these Sourdough Melts is so important, we tried them along with the same sandwich ingredients ... just with regular white bread swapped in instead. Let's just say that there is a reason why Panera decided to use sourdough here. The extra tang, thickness, crusty edges, and slight chewiness add both to the flavor and texture of the sandwiches. White bread is a bit flimsy and bland in comparison.
That being said, if sourdough just really isn't your thing, it's always okay to make substitutions. Panera has plenty of other breads that might be nice with these fillings — maybe the black pepper focaccia, if you're feeling fancy. One more excellent thing about sourdough bread? It is the perfect kind of bread to dip into your favorite Panera soup. And yes, there are plenty of soups from Panera Bread, many of which go very well with these Sourdough Melts.
Are Panera Bread Sourdough Melts Worth It?
It should probably be noted that sometimes Panera runs out of key ingredients. The first time we tried to order these, at around dinnertime, the store had to replace missing sourdough with another kind of bread. Speaking of sourdough, overall, the melts didn't end up looking or tasting quite as advertised, thanks to potentially hurried preparation. It was all riding on the melty factor, which, when the bread is limp and under-toasted, didn't come through. Next time, we hope that our sourdough is a little more golden brown.
In the end, we would highly recommend both Sourdough Melts, as long as you make sure to ask your Panera worker to toast your sandwiches for a little while longer than they toasted ours. The Sourdough Melts have tons of flavor and plenty of potential to become your next regular weekday lunch.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.