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Panera Bread Co.: baked to perfection

Kid-friendly Panera Bread Co. has locations around the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere in the United States. We went for dinner at its new location at 1908 Fourth St. N and had a wonderful experience.

As soon as we walked in the doors of the elegant building, we were greeted by the wonderful smell of cinnamon and baking bread. We walked over to the counter and looked at the menu. After some difficulty choosing from all of the wonderful soups and salads, we decided on the "You pick two" soup and sandwich combos.

We ordered two ($5.99 each), plus a salad (which range from $4.79 to $5.99), and it was plenty for three people. We especially liked the soup; we got broccoli cheddar and vegetable. The food came quickly, and they even split one of the meals for us in the back, seeing that we were sharing one!

The prices range from $1.59 for drinks to $16.95 for party trays. We found the prices very reasonable and felt that we got what we paid for. There is no kids' menu, but they will gladly do half-orders. We found that splitting a meal was perfect, though, and didn't miss the kids' menu. It is also very appealing to children, and when I went there were a lot of kids there.

The food tasted wonderful. The bread was hard and crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. The soup was fresh, and it had a melt-in-your-mouth taste. The bread was one of my favorite parts of the meal, and now I realize why a lot of people go just for the bread.

Panera offers a wide variety of soups, with new ones daily.

Another one of my favorite parts of Panera was the samples. It had about four baskets filled with different kinds of bread, bagels and pastries. The employees were ready and eager to help, and they gave generous samples.

But lunch and dinner are not all Panera offers. It also has wonderful pastries and bagels, such as cinnamon-crusted and dutch apple. We ordered some to take home, and we really enjoyed them.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I would definitely go back.

Panera Bread is open from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Grade: A

Jocelyn Rose Howard, 11, is in sixth grade at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg. Xpress Gourmet rates restaurants from grades A to F.

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