Thursday, January 10, 2008

Paradise Cafe

Restaurant: Paradise Bakery & Cafe
Address: 120 Regency Parkway - Inside the Regency Court Mall
Genres: bakery, cafe
Check Constraints: None. (Short order)
Chain: Yes. | More Omaha Locations: Yes.

  • Chicken Artichoke Panini (whole, $6.95)
  • New England Clam Chowder (bowl, $4.95)
  • Small drink ($1.60)
  • 1 Dozen Cookies (assorted: Ginger Molasses, Snickerdoodle, Sugar, Oatmeal Raisin, Chocolate Chip, $7.80)
It snowed today in Omaha. With that in mind, and wallets smarting from the slightly more expensive lunches we've had in the past couple of weeks, we decided to head somewhere new, with good word of mouth, and with hearty fare, but without breaking the bank. We also decided that soup sounded like a good idea. But Panera was out, because most of us had been there before. Luckily, another such place exists, tucked away from the weather inside the rather high-ceilinged Regency Court mall (I'm fairly sure they'd be upset if they actually heard me call it a mall, though).

The Paradise Cafe is a lot like Panera Bread. It's a bakery and sandwich place, which also provides soups and salads. Unlike Panera, however, it's not as large a chain, and so the store itself projects quite a bit more ambience. The almost cafeteria-style serving style is slightly annoying when all you require is food from the very end of it but are forced to wait (by courtesy if nothing else) for the people who need food from the middle stations, but honestly it's livable. Due to the aforementioned snow and the large amount of office buildings down Regency, the place filled up quickly and the line got long, but at least it was decently fast.

The panini was nothing extraordinary. I am a huge fan of brined artichokes, and they went well with the chicken, which was essentially sliced deli meat. The panini was warm and properly squished, and I'm certain they made it fresh, since I had to take a little tag to wait for it. That was not the case with all the sandwiches, as ND and Moogle will attest later. But all in all, it was a decent sandwich. The sandwich comes with a cookie, which I'll get to in a bit.

The soup, on the other hand, had clearly had a lot of time and attention lavished on it. A bowl of clam chowder wherein you can detect actual lumps of clam meat is not something that's often found for under $5, unless you are lucky enough to live directly on the Atlantic shoreline. The cream base was rich and hearty, and though it needed a bit of pepper for my taste, Paradise thoughtfully provides actual pepper grinders at each table. That's definitely rare outside of steakhouses. I considered getting it in a bread bowl, and I though I think it would have been good, I'm glad I got it in a bowl this time.

Paradise Cafe's slogan appears to be "Famous for our Cookies", which I can certainly see to be true. Their chocolate chip cookies go out with each sandwich and possibly each entree, which means that there is a constant stream of them emitting from their ovens during the lunch rush - and that's awesome. It means the cookie arrives on your plate warm, and even if you eat a bit slowly, it's still at a pleasant temperature by the time you get around to it. Assuming you're making your mother proud and eating dessert last, anyhow. The chocolate chip was quite nearly transcendent, as ND will assert later. The others were all delicious in their way, but were not as fresh, which detracted slightly. Still, they were all baked to a very good level of done-ness, with the right amount of toothsome chewy in the centers. The only real complaint I would have is that the snickerdoodle was practically indistinguishable from the sugar cookie. Since the sugar cookie was not bad, this wasn't a critical failing, but I'm really likely to just skip the paltry dusting of cinnamon next time and just get twice the sugar cookies.

In addition to the soup, sandwiches, and cookies (oh, the cookies), Paradise Cafe offers both salads, pastas, and an array of breakfast fare. None of us tried any of these, but they looked fairly good. If we visit again, I'm fairly sure I'm going to try the salads along with the soup instead of the sandwiches; intuition and the immense size of their salad bowls says that's going to be a bigger bang for your buck.

  • Paradise Club (whole, $6.75)
  • Roast Turkey Noodle Soup (bread bowl,~ $5.95)
  • Small drink ($1.60)
I've never been to Panera, so I can't really compare the ambiance, but I -have- smelled it, and Panera smells more like a bakery than a cafe, while Paradise smells more like a cafe than a bakery. As far as the sandwich goes, it was a standard club sandwich on a large and puffy croissant, but we arrived just before the lunch rush started, and the sandwich had been sitting too long, so the croissant was difficult to eat. It was getting on towards rock hard at the edges and was mushy from the mayo in the center. If we went back, I'd go with a salad or a panini, as both are made fresh before your eyes, unless I wanted a sandwich that they didn't have pre-made.

The bread bowl was a very nice sourdough that was a touch light on the whole "sour" thing, but it was nice and moist on the inside, and really, if I was feeling like bread, I could have just eaten it with some butter and no soup at all. The soup inside it was another matter. I've had worse turkey noodle, but not by much. The turkey was difficult to taste, there wasn't quite enough carrot, and worst of all, the noodles were so thoroughly overdone that there may as well not have been noodle at all. As soon as they went into your mouth they disintegrated. There is nothing that makes me hate a soup worse than overdone noodles. Cham tried a bit of broth on a bit of bread, and noted that it was at least nicely peppered, but that's because I added a generous measure of coarsely ground pepper off the aformentioned grinders. It seems that the under-spicing the soups is the tendency, here.

And then there were the cookies. I ate the chocolate chip cookie that came with the sandwich. It was excellent. Just a bit short of crispy at the edges, and not-quite-cooked in the center, and the chips at just the right consistency. Then Cham went and bought a dozen cookies, and we split those. I can see why their cookies made them famous. The low points were the snickerdoodles and ginger snaps, though it should be noted that if you eat the snickerdoodles upside down, like nature intended, the sugar-cookie base is hard to notice. The oatmeal rasin cookies could have done with more cinnamon, but other than that, were excellent (and thick) examples of the type.

The ginger cookies were slightly past excellent, being nice and chewy, tasting of just the right amount of ginger, and generally being worth going back for. And then we ended with another chocolate chip cookie each. I chose wisely, and ate my cookie properly, saving the thickest part for last, and I was rewarded. The last bite of the last cookie consisted of a perfect blend of slightly-uncooked dough, molten chocolate chips, and, at the very center, enlightenment.

That's right, I enlightened. If it weren't such a drive for me, I'd go back just for a dozen of these chocolate chip cookies, with a side of ginger cookies. I'd recommend against trying any soup with noodles in, and against sandwiches in general, but other than that, it's good.

  • Paradise Club (half, $?)
  • Chili (bowl, $?)
  • Small drink ($1.60)
I attempted to order a soup and sandwich combo, which I think comes with half a sandwich and a cup of soup. I ended up with a bowl instead, which is fine with me. That just means that I'm not 100% on the prices for what I ordered. The total for the half sandwich, bowl and soft drink came to $9.04 though. I didn't get a receipt so I couldn't check the individual numbers.

The sandwich wasn't spectacular, but it was still good. It was, indeed, pre-made. I noticed a line up of sandwiches after I ordered, but most were actually gone. They were in the process of filling in some empty spots as I waited for the line to move. The club was various deli meats, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a large croissant. The bacon was a bit extra crispy and a little hard to eat. The sandwich had a tendency to fall apart, including the croissant flaking to pieces. My croissant wasn't nearly as bad as ND's sounds. I didn't try his though.

The chili was really good. It was a pretty standard chili, from what I could tell, with meat and beans. It wasn't as spicy as most other chilies I've had, and could have used some red pepper flakes or something. It came with a dash of cheese on top, which I couldn't taste. Still, I enjoyed it. It would probably be worth trying in a bread bowl as the main dish.

The cookies were awesome. The sandwich came with a lone chocolate-chip, but Cham bought a dozen more. They were all soft and moist, except the oatmeal raisin. Those were a bit drier/crunchier. My favorite out of the bunch had to be the ginger molasses. I got mostly sugar-cookie flavor out of the snickerdoodles. The actual sugar cookies were a bit much after the snickerdoodles, but they were still good. The chocolate chip were impressive, and the chips were still gooey. I wish I hadn't let the cleaning guy take my drink cup before all these came.

  • Thai Chicken Wrap (half, $?)
  • Roasted Tomato Soup (cup, $?)
  • Also the cookie that comes with
  • Small drink ($1.60)
I'm in more or less the same situation as Jay on ticket. at about the same cost. If I run into the ticket later I'll let you know.

This place was my recommendation, as people from work have been here before, and I figured it was worth giving it the full geeks.rate. I got what I always have gotten so far, which is the Thai Chicken Wrap. It's a chicken wrap in a green tortilla-like, with rice, some things that texturewise feel like nuts, lettuce, etc. It comes pre-prepared and cold, but I think that's okay for this. It also comes with a peanut sauce I enjoy. The texture's also nice. I can be very boring sometimes. I do think I will try something else next time, though, just because.

The tomato soup is basically their signature soup, and it is very very good, and a little pepper doesn't hurt it, but I don't see it as necessary either. With caution, I will add that Cham noted that it had the same flavor profile as Chef Boyardee. That doesn't mean it's the same awful gloop, but you may find a certain reminiscence. As I hate Chef Boyardee junk, and do like this, I suggest you try it anyway. I really need to stop getting it in the 'platter' type setup and instead get a full bowl or bread bowl of my own of it at some point. I imagine, given the signature nature, that the tomato soup in a bread bowl is where it's at.

The chocolate chip cookie that comes with fell apart on me during my search for a table, because it's that soft, and it was still good. All of the others were fine to me, and I honestly have no idea what the difference between a snickerdoodle and a sugar cookie is anyway, except that the snickerdoodle looked like it had cinnamon on it which I couldn't really taste. The ginger cookie was awesome.

I think at this place that the speed of the cycling is a huge factor in the taste of everything. This makes going at the times the food will be best a bit of a pain, as that's when the line will be longest, but I think that's also the most worth it from a sandwich PoV. The salad idea that Cham has is a good one, and definitely worth trying. It's also worth noting that this particular location does breakfast, and looked like it had some good breakfast options, but none of us live quite close enough to make that jump, except maybe Cham or I on a weekend.

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