Bread is back

Design your own sandwich at Great Harvest Bread Co.

HOLD THE AIOLI <br>Alex O’Brien puts the finishing touches on one of Great Harvest’s made-to-order beauties.

Alex O’Brien puts the finishing touches on one of Great Harvest’s made-to-order beauties.

Photo By Tom Angel

Great Harvest Bread Co. Mangrove store 1223 Mangrove Ave. 899-7273 Forest store 1141 Forest Ave. 345-7155

I never fell for that Atkins fad, and neither did the folks at Great Harvest Bread Co. It stuck to thick, carb-o-licious slices of whole grain bread even as less principled venues offered wraps or just plain lettuce.

Lucky for me, the local branches of Great Harvest also use their breads as a palette for masterpiece sandwiches. I don’t know about you, but my sandwich choices suit my taste perfectly, and I’m happy to create my own at this bakery/cafe.

Given the typical lunch rush often overwhelms even the most industrious Great Harvest employees (I know from my stint as a sandwich maker there) I usually fax or call in my order ahead of time or just stop by earlier in the day. This time, I’m on the Mangrove side of town so I hit up that location. Great Harvest mills (yes, they even stone grind their own flour here), kneads and bakes most of their bread at the Mangrove store.

The spacious, open kitchen full of shelves of ingredients, racks of baking pans, stainless steel ovens and the sandwich table dominates the space. The dine-in area is consequently small and not particularly inviting, so I’ll order my half sandwich ($3.55) to go.

If it were winter I’d consider a cup of soup or a grilled panini sandwich. Great Harvest offers two varieties soup ($3.75) every day, and they’re usually good, even though they come from frozen concentrate. Look for the exotic Hungarian Mushroom and avoid the Clam Chowder. Try the paninis ($5.95) slathered with the creamy garlic basil aioli, homemade with fresh basil leaves. The salads, as far as I’m concerned aren’t worth the price. Besides, the bread is the whole reason I’m at Great Harvest in the first place. The best showcase for their fresh bread is the design-your-own sandwich.

Unlike restaurants with waiters that make you feel guilty for being picky, here I grab a plastic clipboard and take matters into my own hands. I can exploit over 30 ingredients for the perfect combination of flavors. It’s the same price whether you order a minimalist mayo, ham and cheese, or if you have every ingredient possible. Being poor and hungry, I waste no time taking advantage of this unique opportunity.

I start, strategically, with their sourdough bread—it has the most surface area and makes for a bigger sandwich. The whole wheat is yummy, but slices are just too small. Stay away from the tasty but too narrow Rustic French, especially if you plan to order soft fillings that inevitably squish out the sides. Come on a Wednesday when the mouth-watering Basil Parmesan is the featured specialty sourdough.

The order form lets me dress up the sourdough with multiple condiments—there are three mustard options alone—but I skip those and mark an X by the hummus. It’s house-made from a special recipe with blended garbanzo beans, olive oil, onions and spices. It’s not as finely pureed as I’d expect, but its flavor more than compensates for the texture and it’s free.

Next I choose a meat, or any combination of two. Today I stick to classic turkey, even though they offer smoked turkey, ham, roast beef, tuna, pastrami, salami, and the variety of cheese and veggie choices are enough to eschew meat altogether. My sandwich will also include whole leaves of dark green lettuce, cucumber, tomato, sprouts, jack cheese and extra red onions. Add creamy avocado for an extra 75 cents, and I’ve completed the perfect sandwich.

I hand my order form over to young and energetic employees, in a colorful array of Great Harvest T-shirts and starchy white half-aprons, who move quickly down the sandwich table assembly line. I grab a small bag of Tim’s Cascade Style potato chips (75 cents)—the hot jalapeno flavor is the best, but Sweet Maui Onion is a close second. With a fountain drink, I’ve got a healthy and satisfying lunch for under $5.

I hear my name called and grab a brown bag from a smiling woman, and I’m off. Local owners Shelley and Wade Overson stress good customer service, cleanliness and speed, and their employees generally deliver. Their efforts, the vast ingredient selection and quality bread ultimately make the experience one I’m glad to repeat.