10 July 2011

Cafe Chronicles: Pret a Manger

I love Pret.  The food, the small little tables, the coffee, oh my gosh the coffee.  When their promised store opens at Heathrow Terminal 3, they will seriously be the pretty much the most perfect chain (strongly tied with Le Pain Quotidien, of course!).  This cafe chronicle is for the American version of the chain as they serve different food and have unique ambiances in both England and America.  I'll probably do a British edition when I go back to uni!


Pret is pretty much my go-to place for good, fresh and clean food wherever I am in the world.  Of course, I spend the majority of my time in New York and Southern England, where the chain has a massive stronghold.  They have a good variety of sandwiches, baguettes, wraps, salads, hot sandwiches and coffee. I'm not a fan of everything on their menu, sometimes they add a bit too much mayo/meat to their products to have much of an option, but the products there that I do eat always impress me.

Basically, this place is class-ified fast food.  You choose your meal from a large cooled display case, pay at the till, where you can also order hot beverages, and eat in or take away.  Pretty simple and pretty standard for a grab and go lunch.  The atmosphere at the majority of the locations is quite fast-paced as they cater mostly to a business lunch clientele (just look at their new york locations!).  I don't mind this, the cafes usually get very crowded during standard business lunchtimes, however!

The major problem at the most of Pret's locations is the availability of seating.  Since they cater to a mostly business clientele, they don't provide extensive tables.  This means, even outside of lunchtime hours, it can be extraordinarily difficult to find a seat.  The only location that generally evades this problem is my favorite, their Union Square cafe.  It has two stories with extensive seating on both.  Still, during lunchtime, finding a place can get difficult.

Another problem that can arise with the size and traffic of their cafes, is the availability of the food they make.  You can view their full menu online, but they rarely have such extensive options at a single location.  Some things they have online I have never seen in any store.  That being said, they always have some good option.  Beware during lunch hours, they tend to run out of some of their more popular items.  After lunch the shelves are near depleted.

Okay, so I've stated that I have quite a few problems with Pret.  Yet these problems are positively small compared to the reasons I love this place.  The reasons why I go back and back, not only whilst I am in New York, but also when I am in England.  I go back for the food, the coffee, the locations and the atmosphere.  That's right, the reasons I go completely overlap with the reasons that I might choose to stay away.

Simply put, the food at Pret is amazing.  Even though their extensive online menu is rarely found in stores, there is always something I want when I visit that fits my vegetarian preferences.  Their sandwiches are made on lovely whole wheat, granary bread.  It's tasty and soft and I always enjoy it when I eat a sandwich from there.  The wraps are also excellent.  I've found it quite difficult to find a good wrap in America (they are every where in England), but this British chain usually hits it right on the money.  The wrap bread is soft and yields lovely to the rest of the fillings, which are usually excellent themselves.  My favorite must be the avocado and pine nut wrap, an awesome blend of ingredients with excellent seasonings.

I also love their salads.  Okay, so they aren't always fresh, but they are the most of the time and when they are they are fantastic.  There is quite a variety here to satisfy whatever type of salad you are in the mood for.  Meat lover?  Salad for you.  Classic salad sound good?  Check!  Seasonal?  Of course.  The only thing the american pret lacks?  They don't include dressing and only sell it in double serving non-resealable packs.  Annoying, but bearable.

Overall, I love pret.  It's not perfect, but compared to the other options for a quick healthy lunch, pret is excellent for it's locations, food, coffee and atmosphere.


Atmosphere: 2 out of 5 coffee cups.  Pret doesn't really have an atmosphere of which to speak of.  It's fast paced and that's about it.  Not unpleasant to sit in, but definitely not something you are ever going to seek out.  I like it, but I don't go for this reason.

Food: 4 out of 5 coffee cups.  This isn't high quality restaurant, so it's not the best you are ever going to eat, but for the price and everything, it's awesome.  Seasonal changes, made fresh daily, what's not to like?

Coffee: 3 out of 5 coffee cups.  I am always surprised at how good the coffee is at Pret.  It's not high quality, but it's a nice meeting place between Starbucks and gourmet coffee places.  I wish they put chocolate on the cappuccini in America, though.

Prices: 5 out of 5 coffee cups.  Not crazy expensive.  I'm not going to eat lunch out here everyday, but when I do, I don't feel as if I'm breaking the bank.  A happy medium that makes me happy.

Location:  4 out of 5 coffee cups.  Even though their locations are undoubtedly central, the bulk of them are in business areas and are, therefore, closed on weekends.  The two biggest NYC locations are Union Square and Bryant Park, which are open all week.  There aren't that many when you venture too far uptown or any area around where people live.


Interested in Pret a Manger?  Here are some useful links!

Pret a Manger website

Serious Eats


Urban Spoon

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