Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Panera Bread has rolled out its double bread bowl nationwide so that you and your loved one can reimagine the classic scene from “Lady and the Tramp” and gobble down both ends of your sodden lunchtime loaf until your lips meet in a collision of crumbs, longing and broccoli cheddar soup.
The bowl is a two-fisted version of the sourdough boule that, for years, has served as a soup pot at Panera, the fast-casual chain that racks up billions in sales annually. With its new offering, Panera has embraced either romance or how the dining public can’t make a decision on what soup to order.
When I walked into the Silver Spring location this morning and ordered the dish, I wasn’t feeling the love. I encountered skepticism.
“What do you mean, double bread bowl?” the employee asked. I proceeded to explain the dish, and she left in search of someone who could let me know if lunch was on or not.
A few minutes later, I got my double bread bowl, presumably the first one this location had ever sold. The bread is the same semi-crackly sourdough boule as before, but it’s stretched into an oblong, underinflated Tom Brady football of a loaf. The bread has two wells dug into each end that you can fill with your choice of soup or mac and cheese. The spider holes are surprisingly deep. Perhaps not deep enough to conceal a deposed dictator, but deep enough to fill them with generous servings of, say, French onion soup and Baja mac and cheese.
I ordered mine with creamy tomato soup and bacon mac and cheese, not because I was sharing this repast with a loved one, but because I wasn’t. There was no one to question my carb-on-carb indiscretion. I was reminded of a recent tasting of the double bread bowl by the crew over at Business Insider. They mixed and matched various soups and pastas in the bread when the dish was introduced in Philadelphia last year as part of the chain’s test run.
“I think this is great for if you’re having a really bad day, and you just want to eat a lot of carbs,” Irene Kim, an associate video producer for Business Insider, said at the tasting.
The double bread bowl really is perfect for Valentine’s Day: It’s a dish to share with someone special or one to salve lonely hearts. Or at least the hearts not on a Paleo diet.
It also provides an unexpected thrill. At some point, as you scoop out your lunch, you realize that you can dig a tunnel between the two preparations held prisoner in separate bread cells. You could view this as a metaphor for two hearts coming together over a shared meal. Or you could view this as a 12-year-old junior high kid might: as the potential to covertly combine two dishes — like, say, barbecue chicken mac and cheese and broccoli cheddar soup — into one gloriously nauseating bite.
But should you prefer to treat your bread more like the shared plate of spaghetti and meatballs in “Lady and the Tramp,” you might want to consider a possible nightmare scenario to your romantic comedy: After eating all those carbs, you’re more likely to fall face first onto the table than to feel like kissing.