Chill-Chasing Panera Chicken Stew

The weather in Atlanta has been cold and overcast for the last two days. While out running errands, I got quite chilled and a bowl of soup seemed the perfect way to get warm. As luck would have it, I had a gift card* from Panera Bread in my wallet and was a mile away from my neighborhood Panera location.

I walked in and was immediately impressed with the d├ęcor and the ambiance. I was expecting a loud Starbuck’s-like setting, but instead was greeted by a subdued environment with modern furniture and contemporary jazz playing unobtrusively in the background. I was greeted at the counter by a friendly server who cheerfully invited me to join Panera’s “MyPanera” member club.

I perused the soup selection (which varies daily) posted above the counter. I found it incredibly difficult to choose which of the home-style soups to order: classic French onion, vegetarian creamy tomato, low-fat all-natural chicken noodle, and baked potato, all made with the "good goes in" philosophy. I finally decided on the Sonoma Chicken Stew at the recommendation of my friendly server.

Within minutes my name was called and my soup appeared on a tray with a real (non-plastic) spoon. I found an inconspicuous seat and sat down to enjoy my lunch. The stew was a creamy blend of chunky chicken, peas, leeks, red potatoes and adorable (completely spherical) carrots with the modest herbal flavors of thyme and what I believe was tarragon served with two little cheese scones; kind of a deconstructed chicken and dumplings of sorts. The stew was very mild and although I personally would have preferred a bit more spice, I imagine the stew would appeal to almost every palate.

As I sat sipping my stew, I noticed the other patrons which included a Georgia Tech study group (taking advantage of the free WiFi connection,) bank tellers from a local branch, a bike messenger and several shoppers recently from the surrounding shops, all of whom were enjoying the quiet, homey atmosphere and each other’s company.

I must say I was totally impressed with my whole lunch experience. This was my first visit to this Ansley hotspot, but will definitely not be my last. Next time I must try one of those amazing-looking sandwiches and figure out how I can get the recipes for those little cheese biscuits...

*In accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, we are disclosing that we received a complimentary gift card for Panera Bread as members of the DailyBuzz Food Taste Makers Program in exchange for this post. A favorable review was not required; the review of the product is based solely on our personal opinion and experience and may differ from those of our readers.