Another day, another cool sandwich contest. This time, TLC has paired with Panera Bread for a “create your own sandwich” event, with a bunch of cool prizes. First place is $10,000 cash, a $500 Panera gift card, free Panera bagels for a year, and your creation will be featured at Panera Bread locations nationwide. All entries will be judged (on a meticulous scoring system, with “taste appeal” and “creativity of sandwich” being the main factors) and twenty finalists will be submitted to the public for voting.

“DO NOT STEAL”

It’s a fun idea, and it’s worth trying if only to see how many cool ingredients Panera offers. Like the People’s Burger at Red Robin, I’ve thrown my hat into the ring with the Fusion Chicken Satay Focaccia. I tried to translate some of my favorite Thai food into a grilled sandwich, with a blend of Eastern and Western vegetables. Obviously, the very concept of a sandwich is somewhat rare in Pacific Asian cuisine (the Bahn Mi notwithstanding), but I feel like I did it justice.

I’d encourage everyone to enter, and be sure to post your recipes in the comments here. Voting starts Oct. 22, I’ll be sure to remind everyone. A lot. Too much, probably.

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Panera Bread is not a restaurant I review frequently, and not without reason.  While their sandwiches are generally delicious and their baked goods top-notch, Panera Bread usually skews a bit more expensive than I’d like, especially when eating at a chain restaurant.  However, I’d like to branch out a little bit, so I decided to swing by Panera last week and see what’s new.

Full disclosure: I have no idea if the Cuban Chicken Panini is new or not. It just looked good.

Reviewing the Cuban Chicken Panini requires a little bit of background.  A Cuban sandwich is a ham and cheese variant which includes sliced ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.  It’s sort of like a Reuben, in terms of flavors (the mustard and pickles give it a bite), but less kosher.  It’s a great lunch choice, and I recommend ordering one if you’re at a restaurant which offers it.

Here, Panera has chosen to trade out the roasted pork for roasted chicken.  It’s an interesting choice, and with the addition of chipotle mayo, it makes for a tasty sandwich.  It’s a little bit different than a usual Cuban, but still close enough that the name makes sense, unlike some other sandwiches (looking at you, T.N.T Reuben).  It’s about $8 for the sandwich and a drink, and well worth checking out, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the style.

Panera Bread is a chain of bakeries and cafes which sell bread, pastries and other baked goods, as well as prepared sandwiches, soups, salads and other restaurant faire.  It’s comparatively expensive, but uses high quality ingredients and thoughtful preparation which puts it above fast food.  For my first review, I decided on a panini.

Not this exact panini per se, but one very similar.

My selection, the Turkey Artichoke Panini, was delicious.  The turkey itself was decent, deli sliced but a generous amount, but the other elements were really the stars of the show.  The carmelized onions, artichoke spread, and Asiago-Parmesan cheese converged into a full, flavorful taste.  The sun-dried tomatoes were alright (in my opinion, sun-dried tomatoes are one of the most overrated sandwich ingredients), and the foccacia it was served on was tasty and large.  The sandwich was also served with Panera brand chips, which were pretty good as well.

The only downside of this sandwich was that it cost $7.09, and didn’t include a drink.  It was among the more expensive sandwiches on the menu, but even the cheaper ones ran for around $6.50 and up.  A full meal at Panera would probably cost around $10.  I’d definitely recommend this sandwich from a taste perspective, but from a cost standpoint it’s a bit overpriced.