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Au Bon Pain: A Logistical Nightmare with Delectable Fare

The food options at Penn State’s University Park are relatively diverse: you can choose from any of the residence hall dining commons, get food to go from one of several convenience stores around campus, or grab a bite from any of the chain restaurants in the HUB. Well now Penn State has diversified that list by adding Au Bon Pain, lovingly abbreviated ABP, to its list of eateries.

Au Bon Pain is a national chain café in the same vein as Panera Bread that features sandwiches, salads, soups, and a variety of baked goods. While I’ve known ABP previously, due to its excellent airport food from my frequent flights to South Carolina, I was eager to experience Au Bon Pain for a real sit-down meal at one of their three campus locations. The main ABP is in Otto’s Café at the Kern Graduate Building, while two satellite locations offer limited menus in the IST Building and the Zoller Gallery. I decided to make my first stop at the Otto’s Café location so I could experience everything ABP had to offer.

Well, the joke was on me, because there was no chance I was ever going to be served in time to eat a meal during my hour-long lunch break. The line stretched out the door and around the side of the building at 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and no, they were not giving away free bagels, coffee, or cronuts. Once inside, the noise was such that I actually couldn’t hear myself think, so I decided to revisit ABP at another location and at a later date.

Although I had always been partial to the old Gallery Café, I ventured over to the Zoller Gallery Au Bon Pain one afternoon to quiet my grumbling stomach. No line out the front door proved promising, but the inside was still a disorganized scene. There was a line off to my left for sandwiches and wraps, a line to my right for espresso, and separate lines for two cashiers. A woman stood in the corner helping people place their lunch orders, because apparently they were just that busy. I grabbed a pumpkin soup from a vat in the center café, chose the fastest line, and darted out of there (busy places are clearly not my thing).

Once I finally sat down to enjoy my soup, a magical thing happened. The creamy, buttery soup was liquid gold, interrupted only by the occasional note of carrot and celery. Mild pumpkin and gingery, spicy flavors balanced each other perfectly. This was exactly the lunch I needed on an unseasonably cold Tuesday. I now understood why ABP had  been a mob scene.

My last stop was the IST location. I got a fruit and yogurt parfait and an iced coffee in the deserted café, and enjoyed them in peace and quiet as the only customer there. The fruit was fresh, the coffee was delicious, and the cashier that rang me up was absolutely lovely.

We had a rocky start, but I’m sure ABP and I are going to be very good friends this semester.

Have you tried out the new Au Bon Pain yet? Was the line as crazy as it was for me, or was I just unlucky?

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