So, sometime last week, our local Panera Bread cafe was converted to the second-ever "Panera Cares," a non-profit cafe where all the prices are converted to a "suggested" donation level and customers can pay what they can afford.  So, my most excellent spouse and I went there last night to check it out.  Verdict?  Well, the menu is pretty much standard Panera fare.  I had the black bean soup in a bread bowl while he had a combo from their "pick two" menu.  We each had a peppermint mocha and bought a cookie for later.  The suggested donation price?  More than twenty-two dollars.

Yeah.  I paid it, being a hard-working virtuous citizen, but that sums up why we never went to the place when it was just a regular Panera Bread.  Their food is good but not spectacular, their baked goods are crazily oversized and consequently way overpriced ($7.00 for a day old loaf of bread!), and their menu selections are apparently designed to be frustrating.  Example: my husband calls the "pick two" option "pick two, as long as one of them is something you don't want"-- the salads that come with the combo default to Caesar, Greek, and house instead of the Signature salads that people actually go to Panera for.  In a town filled with excellent Coney restaurants featuring wonderful Greek salads, I'm not paying Panera prices for a so-so Greek salad.

Panera was a regular haunt of mine back when I had dial-up Internet at home; I really do like the soup in a bread bowl.  But as an overall experience, Panera Cares is more something to support out of community spirit than it is a place I'd go for a nice, reasonably-priced meal.

I dunno who the man, or corporation, behind Pizza Hut is or was, but Michigan is the home of two of the perennial also-rans of the pizza business: Tom Monaghan of Domino's, who wants to build a little Catholic paradise down in the Everglades, and Mike Ilitch of Little Caesars, who wants to rule the pro sports scene in Metro Detroit.

Domino's finally got the message that their pizzas were caca-in-a-box and have retooled the menu so their offerings are edible; I have not tried them myself but my friends tell me that the pizzas are indeed pretty good.  Caesars, which has never in my lifetime been about high-quality grub, is likewise embarking on a new course by reintroducing their old "Pizza! Pizza!" deal in Metro Detroit. Ten bucks'll net you one square pepperoni pizza, one five-topping Supreme pizza, both of them terrible.  I'd welcome the abandonment of the utterly crass "Hot-N-Ready" campaign except that they aren't.  I guess you now can have two shitty pizzas within seconds of walking in the door.

Ilitch has been a good owner of the Tigers and the Red Wings, but everything about LC's is obnoxious.  While other fast-food joints have been steadily backing away from the notion of "we have pre-made food waiting under heat lamps for hours," the entire Hot-N-Ready business uses that yucky idea as its selling point.  Add to that the people waving signs at you on street corners AND the simple fact that their crust, sauce, and toppings are vile... well, they are.  Seriously, I used to like Little Caesars when I was ten or so-- we were broke, so two pizzas for cheap plus the Crazy Bread seemed like a pretty good deal.  And either my taste buds weren't honed yet, or the ingredients were better in the pre-Hot-N-Ready days, because I can't even stand the Crazy Bread now. 

So, one of these days I might try the new Domino's recipe with its spicy sauce, even if the money is going to someone I don't like.  But Little Caesar's isn't getting my business unless they abandon the race to be "firstest with the crappiest" and concentrate on what's going into the actual food.

Note: The Canadian Pizza Pizza chain is not related to Little Caesars.  Really.



February 2012



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