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Panera panders to pastry lovers

Restaurant and Catering IndustryHampton Roads

Any place that specializes in bread always wins with me. The national chain of bakery-cafes has 825 locations across the country, including five in Hampton Roads. That bias aside, this is a calming place to visit in the morning before the rushed lunch crowd begins to arrive. Since they open at 6:30 a.m., you could conceivably have most of the place to yourself. Pick a spot near the fireplace. This is a great place for couples or to just kick back, relax and read.

Atmosphere: Comfy. There are big cushy chairs, fireplaces and medieval music heavy on the lute.

Hours for breakfast: 6:30 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m. for the breakfast specialties

Breakfast specialties: Baked egg soufflés with spinach and artichoke or spinach and bacon. They make theirs with asiago cheese baked into a croissant-like pastry. The spinach and artichoke was pretty good and had bits of red bell pepper tossed in. The soufflé could fit in the palm of my hand, and it's not like I have man-hands or anything. The cheese was good, though I would've liked a bit more egg and artichoke. It was mostly pastry.

Coffee anyone?: Lots of it, from the regular to the iced drinks to the espressos and cappuccinos. A friend had a caramel latte made with espresso, steamed milk and caramel with fresh whipped cream and caramel drizzled across the top. It made for a very attractive looking cup of coffee. She could taste all of the caramel and the espresso gave it a nice kick. Overall, it was delicious at $3.59 a cup.

What I spent: $8.47 for the spinach and artichoke baked egg soufflé, a small orange juice and the latte.

Time from ordering to eating: about 2 minutes, but that's on a Wednesday morning. Weekends - who knows?

Serving style: Pick it up. You place your order, find a table, listen for your order number and pick it up. Bus your own table.

Hang time: Fairly long since it isn't one of those eat-and-get-out places. There's no formal wait staff, so you can linger over your food and just chill for as long as you like most days. If it happens to be particularly busy, hanging out for too long would be rude, but that's another story.

Gluttony factor: Low if you're having the soufflé and a small orange juice. Adding a fresh fruit cup would fill you up. Or, if you want to be bad, get one of their gooey cinnamon rolls or cheese danishes.

The bathroom: There are two stalls, which is a bit cramped, but at least it's clean .

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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