Okay Patch readers, the Caldwells bagel battle rages on for one last week — this time with another corporate faceoff, between West Caldwell's Panera Bread and Manhattan Bagel.
Panera Bread, of course, is an overall eatery, with an eat-in, hang-out vibe where Sally-The-Retired-Crossing Guard might meet Hilda-The-Former-Receptionist for lunch — surrounded by a group of Caldwell Chiefs kids.
Panera Bread is sort of a baked goods Mecca. Never mind that salad, soup, and sandwich line. But above it all, on the back wall, are the bagels, placed in baskets.
Panera Bread offers bagel flavors that might make an old-school bagel fan wince, or even laugh. The vanguard asiago cheese is present, along with the "signature" chocolate chip and the "new" trail mix.
Panera Bread has officially adopted the somewhat sobering and horrifying method of posting calorie content on all of their bagels and other baked goods. It's enough to give even the hardiest of eaters pause — even the health smart trail mix is over 400 calories. Without putting any kind of spread or topping on those bagels, it would take at least 30 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise to work off those calories.
Panera Bread employs tier pricing for their bagels. So, you could end up paying anywhere from 99 cents to $1.29. I've seen this other places — even local places — but I don’t like this. Would you charge more for a cookie, with chips? It's almost like Italy, where one is charged for ketchup packets.
Panera, Private Eye
Buying a bagel at Panera Bread means making a lot of decisions, as workers will ask you a variety of questions, including:
● "Do you want that sliced or toasted, and/or both?"
● "Would you like anything with that? Butter? Cream cheese?"
● "Is that for here, or to go?"
Panera Bread serves your bagel plain, giving customers a plastic knife toapply their own amount of spread.
Based on my informal observations through the years, Panera Bread (or at least the West Caldwell one) doesn't appear to sell a lot of bagels.
Made in Manhattan
In comparison, Manhattan Bagel is more like Suburban Bagel.
The setup is designed for good service (they are quick), and mimics a mom-and-pop design.
There are many flavors and a few oddities. The garlic is a favorite, along with honey wheat. Cheddar and then jalapeño cheddar fall in the latter category.
In fact, Manhattan Bagel seems to enjoy offering variety. For instance, outside of the main bagel area on the counter there are not only "super-cinnamon" bagels, but their logical extension, "super-cinnamon raisin" bagels. One could only guess that they both are ... super.
Panera Bread - These bagels looks like a bagel — it's average in size, and the crust looks all right, but the center hole is bigger than it should be. In fact, most of the bagels had huge, gaping holes in them.
Manhattan Bagel - Nothing remarkable here, just a garden-variety appearance, with the overall size being a little smaller — in the Sam's league — but not nearly the same in height. There's not a lot of "meat" in Manhattan Bagels' bagels, at all.
Flavor Face-Off: Does One Taste Like a Hockey Puck?
Panera Bread - This bagel was soft, all the way through, but there was not much of a discernible taste between the out and inside. It also had a rubbery texture — you really had to pull at it to chew off a piece. On top of that, it had a slight frozen food flavor. This bagel was not good. A sampling another day resulted in the same feeling.
Manhattan Bagel - There's not much to say here. The plain bagel wasn't bad. It was fresh, and had a bit of outer shell taste going on. It needed some butter, cream cheese or other spread. It's basically a passable vehicle to carry other tastes, and much better than Panera Bread.
Overall - Not much was expected from either Panera Bread and neither disappointed.
804 Bloomfield Ave., West Caldwell
Plain bagel price: 99 cents
764 Bloomfield Ave., West Caldwell
Phone: (973) 808-5193
Price of plain bagel: 90 cents
Our search for the Caldwells Best Bagel isn’t done yet. All of the main bagel sellers have been sampled. But before we pick a final winner, we will compare some notes next time. Keep that feedback coming - your opinion counts!