Bear Market Sandwich Extravaganza: Stouffer's Corner Bistro Southwest-Style Chicken Panini

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This week the Bear Market embarks on a great adventure: the sandwich. Last weekend we bought a stack of frozen grocery store panini and flatbread and stockpiled them in the RFT freezer. Barring theft, we will try out a new one every day this week.

Our earliest memory of the workplace lunch was the sandwiches our mother packed us every morning for day camp and later school. (And, believe us, feigning enthusiasm for volleyball and bug juice was work.) At first, she would borrow our crayons and draw little pictures on our brown paper bag, but after eight weeks of camp, the thrill was gone. The drawings ceased and all that was left were a series of salami or peanut-butter sandwiches in various states of flatness, pressed into submission by our juice box.

Sometimes we buy a loaf of bread and some turkey or chicken and try to convince ourself that those lunches weren't so bad, but even though we get to eat them now at our comfortable desk instead of an ant-infested patch of lawn or a sticky cafeteria table crammed in with twenty of our peers, the taste still makes us a bit sad. Not nostalgic. Just sad.

There are a couple of sandwich shops in the vicinity of our office, one famed for its amazing weight-loss properties, the other for its astonishingly speedy delivery. A lunch from either can cost upwards of six bucks at an unfavorable ratio of cost to taste.

Is it possible to do better with frozen supermarket fare? Find out after the jump.

Name: Stouffer's Corner Bistro Southwest-Style Chicken Panini

Cost: Currently 5 for $10 at Schnucks, but usually approximately $3.

Preparation Time: Approximately 3 minutes in the microwave.

Quantity: Half a very thick sandwich, an adequate meal even without a side of chips from the vending machine.

Bread: Thick slices of sourdough, toasted on the patented Revolutionary Grilling Tray. This appears to be a round, ridged piece of coated cardboard. The consistency of the finished product is crispy in parts (mostly the crusts), but very chewy in others. Mostly it tastes like toast reheated in the microwave.

Filling: In the words of the manufacturer, "strips of mesquite-seasoned white meat chicken topped with crumbled bacon, cheese and a spicy southwest-style sauce." The chunks of chicken don't really taste like mesquite, but they are tender -- not quite juicy, but not crispy, either. The cheese appears to be a blend of cheddar and Monterey Jack, melts nicely and tastes like real cheese, not cheez. The bacon bits add a bit more flavor and the chipotle mayo sauce has a pleasant tang, but not enough to frighten Anglo palates.

Note: The Corner Bistro also makes Chicken Asiago, Classic Italian Deli, Grilled Italian Chicken Panini and Smoked Turkey Club Panini.

In short:
For a $2 -- or even a $3 -- sandwich, you could do a lot worse. It's hot and not much more expensive than packing your own.

- Aimee Levitt

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