Panera Bread tests new dinner menu in Cranston

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While we have enjoyed the coffee, food, atmosphere and service at the Cranston and Warwick Panera Bread locations, we now have a good reason to return more frequently to its newer location in Chapel Hill at 4000 Chapel View Blvd.

The restaurant chain is testing a dinner-centric menu that includes nine hearty, wholesome, made-from-scratch items, available from 4:30-10 p.m. The selections include hot sandwiches and three new product categories for Panera: Artisanal flatbreads, hearty bowls and seasonal sides.

We favor Panera because all of their offerings, now including the new ones, are 100 percent clean with no preservatives, sweeteners, flavors or colors from artificial sources. All nine items list the number of calories. Joyce and I, both being diabetics, find this very helpful.

There is no question that during the next few months we will have tried everything, and we got a good start last week.

In the new Dinner Bowl category are two large bowls featuring teriyaki chicken and broccoli and pesto chicken. We shared the pesto chicken, a warm bowl of tender, seared, roasted, chicken over brown rice and quinoa and steamed broccoli, fresh spinach, nut free basil pesto and garlic cream sauce. We fought over the last bite ($10.39 and 630 calories).

I ordered the Steak and Blue Cheese Artisan Flatbread, served piping hot and featuring grass-fed steak, caramelized onions, blue cheese, shredded fontina, mozzarella cheese and a garlic cream sauce baked crisp to order, and then topped with a balsamic glaze and fresh arugula. The combination of tastes was exquisite ($9.39 and 690 calories).

Joyce ordered the Chicken and Bacon Artisan Flatbread with smoked, pulled chicken, chopped bacon, grape tomatoes, shredded fontina, mozzarella cheese with garlic cream sauce and topped with chipotle aioli and fresh cilantro. She reluctantly gave me a bite. And the chipotle adds a nice bite to it ($8.99 and 750 calories).

We’ll be back to try the Margherita Artisan Flatbread at $8.99 and 618 calories.

The sweet potato mashed side, topped with roasted pecan pieces and crunchy apple chips, $2.99 and 250 calories, is a must for sweet potato lovers. For the same price, a tasty tomato basil and cucumber salad is only 90 calories.

Marketing Manager Abby Brennan covers Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island from her Providence base and hopes that the new menu will be popular enough to maintain and expand. I know that it will bring us back.

For more information or to place orders to go call 946-4760.

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