Dish List: Au Bon Pain

Au Bon Pain, a famous East Coast bakery chain, is the newest mediocre addition to the food scene at UC Irvine.

The café bakery operates more like a cafeteria-style Zot-n-Go, with a made-to-order salad and sandwich bar and an assortment of coffees, pastries and soups for breakfast and lunch. The eatery has only been open since the Wednesday of Week 0, something I tried to keep in mind as I wandered through the School of Business looking for the café bakery (a concept I find to be a bit redundant). Finding the café was a task in and of itself — it’s located in the School of Business. Literally.

When I walked in, the size of the actual café was considerably small, and was filled with people confused as to where to stand while waiting for their food without blocking access to the drinks and soup. The white and yellow color scheme gave the room a bit more of a light, open feel, but also contributed to more of a “cafeteria” atmosphere rather than that of a “café”. At the far end was the made-to-order counter, with drinks lining the walls and pastries in the middle of the space. Next to the actual eatery was a large empty room, one which I learned will soon have seating for customers.

The ordering system is quite different from what we are accustomed to here at UC Irvine. The menu is listed up on the wall and sheets of paper line the counter. Once you decide what you would like, you mark your name, order number and any substitutions or modifications you would like on the sheet and place it back in a metal bin specifically designated for orders. Employees then take the orders from the basket and call your name once your order is ready.

As someone who doesn’t eat meat, I was satisfied with the menu, yet still a bit weary; in my experience, vegetarian options are generally hit-or-miss. While the vegetarian options were limited, menu items that catered to those with dietary restrictions were clearly labeled, which made ordering vegetarian much easier than skimming every item for any traces of meat.

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

My first visit was for breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. I have a soft spot for egg sandwiches, and I ordered an egg white, cheddar and avocado sandwich on a wheat bagel. After placing my order, I naturally progressed over to the coffee selection to pick up a hot cup of coffee. Unfortunately, their hazelnut blend needed to be re-brewed. This would take another 15 minutes, which was much longer than the time it would take for my sandwich to be ready.

Since the coffee department was not fruitful, my next direction was towards the pastries. The pastries were arranged on metal shelves and were encased with plastic covers to preserve them. By this time, my sandwich was ready, and I settled for a breakfast sans-coffee and sat outside with a friend to see how Au Bon Pain would stack up compared to Einstein’s, my campus go-to for egg sandwiches.

Other than the avocado and lemon aioli, the sandwich was nothing impressive. The lemon aioli was the perfect condiment to add to the sandwich. It gave it a nice citrus taste without overpowering any of the other flavors. The bagel was a bit soggy, and I could have done with one that was toasted a bit more. Given the choice, I probably wouldn’t choose to come back again, or at least wouldn’t order the same thing.

I ended that breakfast quite disappointed. The coffee was out, the sandwich was pretty unremarkable and the environment was nothing I would go out of my way for. But I wanted to give it another try for lunch, to see if maybe I had just lucked out on my first visit.

Unfortunately, it went similarly to my breakfast experience.

For lunch, I decided to order a Chipotle Black Bean Burger — a black bean burger with avocado, cheddar, caramelized onions, tomatoes and chipotle mayo, all on ciabatta, which sounded like a pretty fantastic vegetarian option.

For lunch there were a few more people, and after about 15 minutes of waiting, I heard my name called. When I walked up to the counter, one of the employees explained to me that they had run out of chipotle mayo and asked if I would be ok with regular mayo. Instead, I asked for Dijon mustard on my sandwich, since that seemed to be the only condiment with a whiff of flavor that was in stock. Ten minutes later, when my sandwich did come out, the onions had melted perfectly with the cheese and burger, and the ciabatta was the perfect bread for the sandwich. Had there been chipotle mayo, I think I would have enjoyed the sandwich more — the Dijon mustard was a bit too strong and didn’t tie the sandwich together that well.

I explained my grievances to the manager of the store, who explained to me that since the chain is primarily based on the East Coast, they have been having issues with having enough supplies. The staff was extremely helpful in explaining the ordering process to me and other customers, and their service was greatly appreciated.

While my experiences have not necessarily been the greatest, should you be in the general vicinity looking for a casual place to grab lunch with that acquaintance from freshman year who you still hold formalities with – this is the place for you. The quality of the food and new ordering style is a nice change from our traditional grab-n-go style options.