Sandwich Wars: Pret A Manger Arrives at Metro Center

Because two Potbelly franchises, a Subway, and a Firehook (not to mention two Starbucks, two McDonalds, etc. etc.)  within a three-block radius supplied insufficient sandwich options for us Metro Center drones, Pret A Manger (French for “Bite Me”) has just opened its second DC location at 11th and F. Today is, in fact, opening day for the clean, shiny new store. I had heard about Pret but never eaten their food, so had to try it out.

Pret is more upscale than its competition, and builds smaller stores, with almost no seating; like Firehook and Starbucks, Pret’s sandwiches are all pre-made and ready to take away, thus  “Ready to Eat”. They offer many more types of sandwiches than their competitors, but everything comes standard, so you can’t control the toppings on your sandwich like you can at Potbelly or Subway.  So that’s one trade-off.  As you would expect from a more upscale chain, prices are also a bit higher: sandwiches on whole wheat bread cost $4.99, and ones on baguettes are $6 and up.  Salads range from $5 to about $9; a little sushi plate is also $9. Not horribly expensive, but not as cheap as Potbelly or Subway.

Calories: who’s counting? My sandwich had 580 calories, 55g carbs and 5g saturated fat; Potbelly’s roast beef sandwich with only mayo, cheese, lettuce and beef has 532, 53, and 7 respectively, though if you add hot peppers, mustard, tomato and onion like I usually do, the calories go up to 605.  Anyway, I think similar enough not to make a difference.

The bottom line of course is: do you get what you pay for? I tried the roast beef and arugula baguette ($6.19) and it was very good; the baguette, in fact, was fantastic, crusty outside and supersoft inside. Would make a great banh mi envelope. Good balance of meat, arugula, parmesan cheese, and mayo. Totally gourmet, by fast-food/chain standards at least. Seemed smaller than Potbelly’s regular size roast beef sub, but maybe that was an illusion, and anyway it was big enough; its non-customizability I guess wasn’t a problem because the few ingredients were excellent. I bring my lunch most days, so it will take a while to further explore Pret’s offerings, but I will certainly alternate between them and Potbelly for future weekday sandwich procurement needs.

I’m focused on the Pret-Potbelly comparison because they are across F Street from each other and thus in 100% direct competition. Probably there is enough demand at Metro Center for both to thrive — maybe this will make the lunch rush less crowded at Potbelly. It is nice to have quality sandwich options. But what I would really like is more non-sandwich, non-chain, quick-service options — a niche tailor-made for street carts to fill.  DC has a few, with some Twitter feeds aggregated here, but they rarely come to Metro Center. Fojol Bros. were here early last week apparently — wish they would come back, and bring some friends bearing tacos, or bulgogi, or pad thai, or…whatever, just not sandwiches or hot dogs…with them.

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