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[Photograph: Panera]

I've tried Panera's coffee, bagels, and smoothies before with results that were mixed leaning toward good, but until last week I'd never eaten one of their sandwiches. I certainly hadn't been avoiding them—I love the idea of a fast food place that puts the bread first—but I'd just never been near enough to a Panera outlet when the mood for a $9 sandwich struck.

I've found myself walking by the Harvard Square location more and more often over the past couple of months, though, so I knew my time was coming. On Monday afternoon I was feeling flush of wallet and empty of stomach at just the right time to end up with one of their new Roasted Turkey and Cranberry Panini: turkey breast, garlic-herb cheese spread, cranberry mostarda, and baby spinach on ciabatta. Right up several of my alleys.

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[Photograph: Will Gordon]

Panera's the upscale sort of fast eatery where you place your order and then wait at a table for a few minutes until someone from the kitchen brings your food out. The sandwich looked great when it got to the table, and I was really excited until I popped the hood for a thorough parts inspection. I realize these high-end joints don't traffic in the gigantic portions demanded by the less discerning palates of the McHoi polloi, but this doesn't look like $8.79 worth of chain shop turkey sandwich, does it?

I was hoping for more than four leaves of spinach and maybe a little more cranberry paste, but my main gripe was the apparent protein shortage. Panera's online nutrition calculator claims this sandwich comes with 150 calories' worth of turkey, which should work out to about four ounces*. This looked like about half that to me, and I wasn't alone: My hungry and outraged lunch partner marched it back to the counter, whereupon she was greeted by a manager who said "That doesn't look right at all" before she even registered her complaint. He apologized and told her he'd send out a new sandwich.

*Depending on variable factors such as fat content. The Panera turkey is lean, white, and skinless.

Five minutes later he brought over a sandwich that bore a depressing similarity to the original lightweight. The ingredients were just as sparse; it was identifiable as a different sandwich only by virtue of the new loaf-end bread shape and the sloppier assembly. (He also promised to come back with some sort of coupon or refund by way of apology for the first edition, but we didn't see him again. That's cool, I didn't feel entitled to a free sandwich, but then again, he was the one who offered.) So I can now state with confidence that, at least at this location, Panera serves up a dreadfully skimpy $9 turkey sandwich.

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[Photograph: Will Gordon]

Which is a shame, because it's pretty tasty. The bread was toasty yet soft and although it wasn't super flavorful, the texture and temperature were perfect for the job at hand. The turkey, to the extent that it bothered to show up, was very good. The thickish slices were moist and so full of flavor that they seemed to have been injected with some kind of poultry accelerant, which sounds gross but tasted great. The cranberry matter was too sweet for my liking but not offensively so. The garlic-herb cheese spread tasted exactly like Rondelé: not the most exciting innovation in a turkey sandwich, but not bad either.

If money were no object, I'd order this sandwich again, because the bread was great and the turkey's strong flavor partially made up for its weak volume. But if money were no object, we wouldn't eat fast food turkey sandwiches in the first place.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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