I find it disheartening to check out a restaurant’s Web site beforehand and discover that it’s “a leader in the bakery café segment.” Who’s under the impression that diners will be impressed by corporate-speak? (Perhaps that copy was written by senior director of marketing Kim Jensen-Pitts, who, we read, is a veteran of McDonald’s and Cracker Barrel.)
It’s also not encouraging to find a weekly soup schedule that varies not, nationwide, among the 150-plus Atlanta Bread Company franchise locations. I’ve always preferred my “food concepts” local, individual, even eccentric, not massaged in a corporate HQ.
However, as I read Atlanta Bread’s extensive menu with its yuppie-yummy descriptions, hope blossomed. “Panini,” “pesto” and “portabella” push my buttons every time. (Actually, of course, it’s been quite a while since these dishes moved beyond the yups and into the mainstream, but I like to give credit where it’s due.)
The “bakery café segment,” if you’re wondering, appears to mean lots of sweets and bagels, sandwiches galore, soups, salads, breakfast sandwiches till 10:30 a.m., specialty coffees and smoothies, all at decent or even bargain prices. Perhaps it’s the franchise’s economies of scale that permit Atlanta Bread to sell a large salad and a good-sized sandwich for $5.79 total.
If you find favorites, they’re worth returning for — although, as my dining companion, Peter, put it, “a place like this occupies a certain place in the cosmos. There’s only so good it’s going to get.” Peter also pointed out that if he, a 21-year-old guy, didn’t clean his plate, quantities had to be serious. And he’d ordered the “half-&-half,” a half-sandwich and half-salad (or soup). A whole salad and whole sandwich would have cost $9.98 and required heavy lifting.
I tried to be honest about my reaction to Atlanta Bread. If I hadn’t known it was corporate, would I still have thought the soups tasted homogenized? I don’t know how tomato soup with fennel and dill manages to taste like neither fennel nor dill. And it would be hard not to notice that each food is allotted one flavor and one only.
That one flavor was generally pleasant enough, however, if vague. And that’s how I’d describe most of the dishes my companions and I sampled. Decent, not to rave about, and the prices certainly don’t hurt your attitude.
Sandwich permutations and combinations are close to infinite, since you have your choice of four thin-sliced breads, three thick-sliced, three specialty and four savories. Biggest seller: honey wheat, which tells you how adventurous our east side diners are. The specialty sandwiches are where the panini and portabella come in.
My favorite sandwich was an “Italian vegetarian” panini, warm and cheesy with mushrooms, red pepper, tomato and fresh basil. I couldn’t find the promised basil pesto in the bella basil chicken, though — or the pork in the Cuban pork loin, which just tasted of strong mustard. Peter said the mustard and the roast beef on his pesto bread were good (but again, no pesto flavor). Though the curry chicken salad sandwich’s one flavor was curry powder, it was still enjoyable and way overstuffed.
Vegetarian chili was remarkably mild, chicken noodle soup standard (though the chicken was real and plump, not eraser bits), and the Szechwan hot and sour just hot.
As always, I find less to complain about when it comes to dessert than for any other course. Peter again: “This cookie could be many degrees less good and still be good.” The pecan rolls at Atlanta Bread are sublime, sticky and squishy. They sell muffin tops (“just like Seinfeld,” said our server), and the banana nut is good and rich. Oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies are tops in their genres. Should you ask for the chocolate chunk cookie or go for the triple chocolate chunk?
You can sample 14 types of bagel, six croissants, five Danishes and 20 muffins. Dough is trucked in from Georgia and baked every day, and you may buy bread by the loaf.
My next priority is the $3.29 breakfast sandwich, on a bagel or a croissant with cheddar, Swiss or provolone. It’s sure to outshine that of Ms. Jensen-Pitts’ alma mater.
Atlanta Bread Company is across the hall from Barnes & Noble and is open every day.
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].