Ahh, it’s been a while, sleazy peeps! After a long and depressing winter day, I recently found myself in the warm embrace of what I believe the consensus best mac and cheese out there; Panera Bread’s white-golden goodness. What could be more inspiring than that?
Get cozy with me in this most comforting and canonical review, and let’s momentarily forget our January blues and New Year’s Resolutions!
I’m not sure that any of us could name a mac with a more consistent and enticing presentation than this. I can’t possibly be the only one that want’s to take a mud-bath style soak in a bowl of Panera mac, right? Velvety and smooth, I dare say this sauce is nearly opalescent under the aggressive overhead lighting. It’s a good thing they stick the spoon in there for you sometimes, because half the work of the first bite that one is simply rabid for is already done!
Like so many of our classic favorites in the mac and cheese world, the flavor of Panera’s mac is tried-and-true. Is anyone worried about the minimum 500ish calories involved here? Sometimes, a single bite functions like a Men in Black neuralyzer – what’s a calorie? It’s too tasty to concern yourself with such trivial details.
Like with Kraft or Velveeta, you don’t really want to know how it’s done, but they sure do get the flavor in there, don’t they?
This category might – MIGHT – be Panera mac’s greatest strength. This velvety, gooey cheese sauce swathing the shells is somehow never too runny; certainly never clumpy or dry. I’d honestly be intrigued to see how long it needs to be left sitting out before it were to dry out. On a day like the one I had, in which all health-consciousness is rendered irrelevant, getting a baguette to dip in the leftover sauce is simply a must.
Unique from a Kraft or Velveeta, I love the slight change-up in this mac being an aged white cheddar instead of yellow. Somehow, that does indeed come through in the taste. Getting a baguette to sop up the remaining sauce in a mac isn’t something I’ve ever been tempted to do with another mac; that’s an activity reserved for dishes where the sauce really has its own personality. It speaks volumes to those contrarian qualities of Panera’s, I’d say!
Panera’s website refers to the pasta as “tender shell pasta,” and I would say that that’s a pretty good way to describe it. It’s just outside of al dente enough to not conflict in texture with the smooth, creamy sauce, but is never mushy or singular in texture, either. I’ve found that to be pretty remarkable, actually, for a pre-made mac. Not to take unnecessary shots at places like Au Bon Pain, but the texture of their mac is SUPER inconsistent. Sometimes the noodles have turned to mush, others, the sauce is separated and gritty. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever had a varied experience whatsoever with Panera’s.
Ugh, what more can I say? I think it had been several years MINIMUM since I’d had a bowl of Panera mac and cheese; it warmed my blue day, and was certainly a tonic for tired eyes. If you haven’t had some in a while, do yourself the favor!