Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about how Panera doesn’t make their breads in-store, about how the dough is made elsewhere and shipped frozen to the shops – no. This post is about something weird and wonderful and kinda naughty. I’m talking about Panera’s Hidden Menu. If you’re watching your carb intake, or are avoiding gluten, then you’ll want to start paying attention right about now.

Much like Starbucks and In-N-Out Burger (which we don’t have around here), Panera Bread has a secret menu that’s only available to those in-the-know. Now, consider yourself in the know.

The menu, completely sanctioned by Panera, is only available by telling an associate you’d like to order off the hidden menu. They’ll then hand you a menu card, from which you’ll be able to choose from tasty-sounding options such as:

  • Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey
  • Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad
  • Power Chicken Hummus Bowl
  • Power Steak Lettuce Wraps

These menu items are not served on bread, with bread, next to bread, or inside bread. Just veggies and proteins, finished with herbs, lemon juice, and olive oil. In bowls. Just not bread bowls.

Why don’t they advertise it? They claim that there’s no room on their wall menus or counters, and also that it creates a sort of “secret club of people in the know”, but my guess is that since their name is Panera BREAD, and since the hidden menu items containย  “limited processed carbs”, promoting such a thing might run counter to their overall marketing strategy. Or maybe it’s just a neat way to test-market some new menu items.

Whatever the reason, this is a great option for people who have been eschewing Panera because all of their menu offerings are seemingly overflowing with carbohydrates and/or gluten. You can now enjoy breakfast or lunch with friends or colleagues and not have to worry about falling off the Paleo wagon.

In the interest of science (I always operate in the interest of science), I visited the Clifton Park Panera for dinner this evening, and decided to see if the associates there knew about the Hidden Menu. I stepped up to the counter and said “Do you have that hidden menu by any chance?” The cashier said, “As a matter of fact we do!”

I was waiting for her to pull out a menu card, but instead she started to read me a list of the hidden menu items. I ordered Power Chicken Hummus Bowl (did you expect something different from me?), and then asked if she had many people ordering from that menu. She told me that she actually had only heard about the hidden menu the day before. And that I was only the second person that ordered from it, at least at her register. Cool.

(What’s in the Power Chicken Hummus Bowl? Chicken, cilantro jalapeno hummus, baby spinach, cucumbers, diced tomatoes, red onions finished with fresh squeezed lemon & fresh chopped cilantro)

The guys making the food seemed to be taking an awful long time making my order (lots of people who had ordered after me and collected their food before me), so I asked them if they had seen many people order this particular menu item. They said no and told me that they had never even seen a picture of it so they didn’t even know what it was supposed to look like (the CP Panera is apparently one of the few in the area testing out the new menu items). They brought it over to show me asked me if it looked right – I said sure (it actually did look pretty good).

image

But – how did it taste? Awesome. I love love love their cilantro jalapeno hummus, and these ingredients just go together so well. The lemon juice (from the looks of it, an entire lemon squeezed over top) was perfect. The only issue I noticed was that some the cilantro looked a little browned. Just a few pieces; not enough to turn me off the salad. A suggestion for Panera: a sprinkling of Feta cheese would not be a mistake here. A really healthy and tasty option that I’m sure I’ll be ordering again. You know what would go nicely with it? A hunk of baguette. Kidding. Sort of. Cost: $7.69 plus tax.

If you do go to Panera and order off the Hidden Menu, let me know about it. OR – if you’ve ever ordered off a secret menu anywhere, tell me! I’d love to collect and share your stories.