Friday, July 4, 2008

REVIEW: The Panini Grill- ***1/2 / $

Small and inauspicious, the Panini Grill is a place that you try with low expectations and leave amazed at what you just got. The sandwich menu is large, with diverse ingredients and tastes, the prices are very competitive, and the smoothies are excellent.

Nothing is particularly impressive with the place's looks. The outside is simple, the inside is simple and diner-like, the website is simple, and the menu is simple. Not simplistic, just simple. The only thing that really stands out in the dining area is a large, Dr. Who pinball machine next to the entrance. Seems a bit odd outside of a bar or arcade, but it adds some welcome, and needed, pizazz to the interior.

The menu is large and varied. A wide selection of vegetarian sandwiches guarantees that you'll find something for your ethically inclined friends. The quality of the ingredients is very good. My Steak & American sandwich had tender, flavorful shaved steak with very crisp lettuce and firm tomatoes. The Monster had good, fresh-tasting turkey with honey mustard that was, um, honey mustard, and mild muenster. The bread was, again, fresh and tasty. I would have preferred a bit more heft to the bread, but it still held up well to mountain of meat. All of the meat was moist, but not wet. There were no oils dripping down my hand, and no slimy leftovers. Low on fat, high on fuckin' good.

You have your choice of five breads. It's nice to see a sandwich shop providing more than just long rolls or round rolls. I got the herb foccacia and it was very good. As I said, I would have preferred a denser or thicker roll, but it held up well enough and stayed together. It was well-herbed and toasted to perfection.

A real bright spot for me was the smoothie. Something lots of places do is add ice to the smoothie to drop its temperature almost artificially. This RUINS the texture. It makes the drink watery and sour, and totally defies the name by being anything but smooth. Not here! These are the best smoothies I've had outside of Fresh City. The recipe was great, the price was good, and its texture was smooth embodied. I had the Berry Booster and I immediately wanted another. Fresh, frozen fruit, good, strong yogurt, and good juice all made it one of the best smoothies I've ever had. I only wish they offered different sizes because the one they have is woefully small.

They have a good selection of sides, mostly pasta salads. Only four soups to sample, but they are good. I liked the cream of broccoli soup the best, even though I wanted more texture to the soup. The chunks of broccoli were really small. Still, it was thick and flavorful, and it went wonderfully with the salty bits of panini toast that were so perfectly toasted as to be crispy yet soft. Salads are large and give you a good chance to sample how crisp and fresh their produce is.

I also liked that the Panini Grill knows exactly what it is. It's a sandwich shop and it's doing everything it can do to be that sandwich shop. It's BYOB, it has free wi-fi, and they deliver. An office-worker's dream. They do so many small things to add value to your meal. The fresh toast with the soup. The utter heft of the sandwiches. The free wi-fi. It all combines to to form a value/quality combo that really captured my heart.

And that's where Panini Grill shines. For the money, they give you some really big sandwiches with high quality produce and a number of extras. This place blows the chain sandwich shops clear out of the water and rests comfortably next to another of my favorite sandwich shops, Jim's Deli. Jim's Deli still has the selection to end all selections, but five breads at PG, the different taste inherent to panini, and the excellent smoothies makes Panini Grill a must-try for lunchtime zombies in the area and worth a short trip.

NOTE: I've only ever been to the Middletown location, so my comments on the interior obviously don't apply to the Newport location.

The Panini Grill: ***1/2
Price range for two: $12-$25

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687 W Main Rd
Middletown, RI 02842

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186 Thames Street
Newport, RI. 02840

7 Days 10:30am to 9:00pm
Middletown Location
Sunday 10:30am to 6:00pm

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