Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese for “Big Kids” at Panera

Its winter in Southern California! We’re getting cloudy skies, a bit of rain, and the occasional chilly, blustery night. Not what colder parts of the country would call “frightful” winter weather, but it has me wanting winter foods.

One of the first menus that come to mind when thinking about winter foods is a crispy, grilled cheese sandwich paired with a warm bowl of tomato soup.

Most folks might think of this soup and sandwich combo as kid’s food. And they’d be right to do so. I can’t even count the number of times I had this comfort-food pairing while I was growing up.

Fortunately, there are grown-up versions of this classic! I sampled one version during a recent visit to Panera* in Redondo Beach.

Panera’s Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup

Let me start by saying that Panera’s tomato soup is nothing like the soup we grew up on. Smelling and slurping this velvety soup from a spoon – and from the bowl – was like taking a trip back to childhood without leaving my grown-up palette behind.

The first thing I noticed was the texture; smooth but chunky with bits of real tomato. And next, the flavor: pure, ripe tomato flavor enhanced by oregano and a bit of red pepper.

Panera’s Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup at Panera

Panera’s Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup

Here’s a video that give a bit more info on how they get so much flavor in this soup. Turns out that the pear tomato is the secret!

Included with the soup are croutons flavored with Asiago cheese. With plenty of crunch and tangy, cheesy flavor, the croutons round out the grilled-cheese and tomato experience all in one bowl.

But hey, who’s afraid of a few more calories!? Bring on the sandwich. 😀

The Big Kid Grilled Cheese

The Panera Big Kid Grilled Cheese sandwich takes grilled cheese to another level by upping the cheese ante. Along with organic American cheese, it also includes Gruyere and Vermont White Cheddar. The mix of cheeses adds layers of flavor from sharp to mild.

And because bacon makes everything better, they’ve also added applewood-smoked bacon. The salt and smoke from the bacon bring yet another flavor profile to this complex tasting sandwich. Bacon fans might want a bit more bacon, though, as my sandwich had enough for the taste but it wasn’t so much that it was like eating a bacon sandwich with cheese.

Big Kid Grilled Cheese at Panera

Panera’s Big Kid Grilled Cheese. The ingredients? Fresh bread, three cheeses (Gruyere, Vermont White Cheddar, American), and apple-wood smoked bacon.

Kids Comfort Food with Grown Up Flavor

Panera’s Vegetarian Tomato Soup and Big Kids Grilled Cheese sandwich helped satisfy my desire for a comforting, winter-food experience. It was nice getting the soup and sandwich combo that I’ve known for all these years but with a flavor profile that my adult taste buds can appreciate.

We have a few more months of “winter” to go. I’ll be back for another trip down a very tasty memory lane.

8647 South Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045

South Bay Galleria
1511 Hawthorne Blvd
Redondo Beach, CA 90278

South Bay Pavilion
20700 Avalon Boulevard #380
Carson, CA 90746

Airport Plaza Shopping Center
2733 Pacific Coast Highway
Torrance, CA 90505

* As part of the Tastemakers Program sponsored by the Daily Buzz Food Team, I was given a $10 Panera gift card to sample some of the items mentioned in article. With that sponsorship, some items mentioned were provided on a complimentary basis for the purpose of this review. Prices and menu items mentioned are subject to change without notice. This story was accurate when it was published and reflects the uninfluenced opinions of the reviewers.

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About the Author

Michael loves grilling, rum, and has a weakness for key lime pie.

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