A few days ago, I heard an ad on the radio for Panera Bread’s new Macaroni & Cheese dish. The chef said his kids helped him create this dish of shell pasta covered in two kinds of white cheddar cheese. Sounded yummy! So I looked it up online as a possible lunch option for a friend & I to have the following day. They offer a large and a small portion or you can select it in their Pick 2 menu options with a half sandwich, a cup of soup or a half salad. I also made the mistake of looking at the nutritional information, as I’m making a concerted effort to eat healthier, though this doesn’t mean I won’t allow myself a treat or two now and then. Everything in moderation, right? Anyway, I was astounded at the saturated fat content. Just floored. The calorie count is pretty high, too, but frankly, I was expecting that. Anyway, the small portion is obviously the better bet in that area.
So I talked my friend into going to Panera for lunch. She’d already had their mac & cheese and said it was delicious. I was glad to hear that, but still a little leery. I’ve had “fancy” mac & cheese and been disappointed before. So I was still withholding judgment. To keep costs down, I simply ordered the small portion, which came with a side item choice of an apple, chips or baguette. I went with the apple and a water to drink, since I knew the mac & cheese would blow my calorie / fat / carb counts for the day anyway. And I thought the mac & cheese would be filling, and the apple is supposed to be high in fiber & filling too. This was a decent $5 lunch deal, I thought. Now onto the taste factor.
It was creamy, salty deliciousness. The noodles were soft. The cheese sauce was creamy and full of taste. Some of my past criticisms of macaroni and cheese is that it is too bland. This one does not have that issue. And the small portion, along with the apple, was just enough to satisfy. (Though the apple was a bit too hard, I have to say. Not something I’ve often experienced with apples. Under-ripe.) I highly recommend this macaroni & cheese to anyone looking for a classic comfort food this cold season. And I don’t think you need the extra sandwich, soup or salad to accompany it, unless you have quite an appetite to quench. I would definitely skip the large portion of this dish, however. You don’t want to cut your lifespan in half just for a bowl of mac & cheese. (Yes, that’s how high the saturated fat content is!)
I did have one small suggestion that I thought would improve this dish: some toasted panko breadcrumbs or cornflakes on top would provide a satisfying crunch to the palette, offsetting the rich, creamy, soft texture of the rest of the dish. But maybe that’s just me. No matter what, I’m going back for more. Who's coming with?