444 S Grove Park Rd. (Laurelwood Shopping Center)
Sunday we took the monkeys to the IMAX to escape the rain. When the show was over, everyone was hungry. Jiro, who is on a burger kick, started campaigning for Wendy's or Danver's, but I managed to steer Team Oster towards the new(ish) Panera Bread in Laurelwood. I've never been to Panera Bread despite hearing good things. I wanted to do some shopping in the area, so it seemed like the perfect time to finally try it.
I was impressed by their very large patio upon parking. The monkeys immediately ran over to the fountain and started splashing around. I had to start talking about food and lure them inside before they started disrobing. "What do they have to eat here?" Satchel asked me.
"I don't want a sandwich!" he barked grumpily. (He'd been barking all day thanks to 5.5 hours of sleep the night before at a "slumber" party.)
"...and soup," I finished.
His eyes lit up. "What kind of soup?"
It was a toss up between chicken noodle and broccoli cheddar, but he went with chicken noodle. Once I told him he could get it in a bread bowl, he was content to join Jiro over by the pastries. They both pawed at the glass and repeatedly asked when they could have a "donut."
A nice woman behind the counter was patiently waiting to take our order, but since it was our first visit, I had to politely let her know that it would be a minute. (This was code for, "Stop telling me you can help me!")
I examined the kids' menu (PB&J, ham & cheese, or grilled cheese) and told Jiro his options. He quickly chose ham & cheese. (Actually now that I have a menu and some quiet, I see that he could have also had a turkey or roast beef sandwich.) In an attempt to be helpful, Warren, who missed the previous conversation, tried to sell Jiro on the PB&J. "I already talked him into the ham & cheese!" I snapped. (I'd been snapping all day thanks to being the hostess at the "slumber" party.)
While I was snapping, the monkeys were still pawing the glass and talking about donuts.
Warren and I had plans to go to the Memphis Farmer's Market dinner at Erling Jensen's (lucky us!), so we didn't want to spoil our appetites. I suggested splitting a "Pick Two." Warren happily agreed, so I finally made my way to the register to order us a 1/2 roast beef sandwich and a bowl of summer corn chowder in addition to the kids' ham & cheese and the bread bowl of chicken noodle. I opted for waters all around sensing that this place was a bit pricier than Wendy's or Danver's. Our total was $16. Not too bad.
We went in search of a booth in which to wait for our pager to light up. It was at this time that I got a chance to take in the atmosphere. Panera Bread is very clean and new feeling. It has that corporate look that is indicative of Starbuck's, Taco Bell, etc. I'm sure every one looks pretty much the same, with just a speck of variation. (i.e. The monkeys noted that the tiled fireplace looked like their favorite board game, Blokus, which uses colored tiles.) There were plentiful seating options and quite a few people hanging out on a Sunday afternoon. There were signs for free wifi and several people were camped out with coffee and laptops.
I was told that there were water cups at the drink station, so I headed over while the boys took a seat in a nearby booth. Jiro ran after me and insisted on helping. (He also insisted on filling his tiny water cup with Sierra Mist.) The cups were #1 plastic which is recyclable in Memphis. (They aren't recycling in store, so I planned to take ours home.) I grabbed some napkins, lids, and straws and went to sit down. We could see the counter where the orders came up from our booth and I told Warren he was going to have to help me get everything since it was on real plates. They looked ceramic, but when we actually got our food, we realized they were that melamine plastic. (Yay for reusable plates that the monkeys can't break!)
We eagerly carried our food to the table and I had to forcefully yell, "Wait! Let me take pictures!" before everyone started chowing down. Jiro was super excited by his sandwich because it came with an organic yogurt tube. That kid LOVES yogurt tubes. (The meal actually looked kind of sad on the big plate, but he was not sad one bit.) Satchel was equally thrilled with his bread bowl of soup. This did not stop him from trying to eat my soup, however. Warren and I had a nice big bowl of some badass corn chowder to share, and the 1/2 sandwich was rockin, and a good size, but I think we could have both easily eaten the whole half, so sharing was a bummer. Jiro offered Warren half of his sandwich (he had his eye on the prize--a "donut") which was sweet. Satchel also shared his soup and bread bowl with us once he got his fill. Warren noted that you could scoop out the soup and a bit of the soft bread inside and it was like eating chicken and dumplings. Yum. Watching Satchel devour the whole thing was rather frightening and definitely pushed the limits of "good manners," but he loved it.
"This is so good, I can't stop eating it," Satchel said. "I could just eat this all day," he continued. "I wish I could eat the plate too," he went on. And on. And on.
My favorite comments came from Warren. "I need to make some bread," he said. "And I bet I could make this corn chowder too."
Now that's what I'm talking about.
Before letting the monkeys pick out a treat from the bakery display, I made a quick trip to the bathroom. It was pretty nice--just a few paper towels littering the floor--and the handicap stall had a changing table. Thumbs up.
Back at the bakery, the monkeys were breathing on the glass deciding what to get. Jiro got the hugest cinnamon roll ever and Satchel got "bogels" whatever that means. (He chose them based on their appearance. They look like donut holes.) Dessert set us back another $4. Not bad at all. We were given our treats in a paper bag, which is another thumbs up.
We'll be back.