Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of origin: England
Locations worldwide: About 240 in Hong Kong, the UK, and the US
NYC locations: 25 in Manhattan
Since 2000, Pret A Manger has so insinuated itself into the office-heavy sections of Manhattan, like Au Bon Pain, that it's easy to forget it's a British company. Even faster than the fast food we pioneered, nearly everything they sell is prepared and ready to be plucked from the wall of refrigerated shelves.
The London-based chain, devoted to using natural ingredients and hormone-and-antibiotic-free meat, is quick to feature the phrase "Just Made" on their packaging, though. And if you happen to be in a store during the lunch rush, fresh items are frequently being brought out to replenish the growing gaps in the display.
Sandwiches made on preservative-free, multi-grain bread and sold in triangular cardboard boxes are Pret's stock-in-trade. Wraps and baguette sandwiches are also available. While we don't have British favorites like coronation chicken and mature cheddar and pickle, there are always a handful of standards like turkey club as well as seasonal offerings such as summer herb and hummus or Italian BMT (bacon, mozzarella, tomato—not to be confused with Subway's biggest, meatiest, tastiest).
In 2003, the company shut down a number of locations and decided to re-jigger the menu for New York tastes, which meant less mayo. Though I'm a reformed mayonnaise-hater, I still balk at the heavy-handed application of that creamy condiment, particularly on sandwiches that seem to have no need for mayonnaise. Nevertheless, this slow roasted beef & horseradish ($5.43 including tax) is a fine mayonnaise candidate, especially with a hit from the sharp, grated root for balance. With a few slices of meat and a layer of arugula, these handheld meals are considerably daintier than a deli sandwich. I would never look to Pret if I was truly ravenous.
I eat the cobb & greens salad ($8.15) weekly and would more often if it didn't bust my frugal $6 lunch budget. Then again, the mix of baby greens, sliced green apple, strips of Murray's chicken, toasted walnuts, cherry tomatoes, dried cranberries and blobs of blue cheese are so much more satisfying than a Wendy's salad (yes, I've tried them) for a few bucks more. I only wish that they'd bring back the no-bread chicken Provencal, which was basically a smaller, cheaper salad.
Beyond the core menu are pastries, oatmeal and in the summer, chilled soups like gazpacho and this pea soup ($5.32). Containing whole peas and pea puree as well as mint and green onions, this is some serious greenage. I would also say it's cooling, though if you work in a typically over-chilled building you may as well opt for the beef & barley, instead.
Yogurt pots make a fitting snack or breakfast and use Ronnybook low fat yogurt. This version, more fruity than sweet, comes with blueberry compote and granola ($4.24). [Ed. note: They have some pretty tasty chocolate chip cookies, too.]
Known for expanding at a turtle's pace, Pret a Manger just arrived in Washington DC last year, and Chicago will be getting their first this month. Hardly on track to be the next Panera Bread, it's yet to be seen if Pret A Manger will catch on throughout the rest of the United States.
Pret A Manger
Various locations throughout NYC