Smile Politely

Sandwiches and sweets, breads and spreads at Great Harvest

The store is relatively small. The counter is only about 15 feet from the door. When you walk in, you may be overwhelmed by the shelving against the wall and taking up floor space to showcase numerous jars and bags and boxes, and the counter covered with sweet treats and samples. But as long as you don’t enter the store like a bull in a china shop, you’ll soon find yourself checking out all of the little jars of various spreads, and you’ll undoubtedly end up staring at all of the cookies and brownies and Rice Krispies treats and sliced bread samples Great Harvest Bread Company has to offer. And when you’re done ogling the sweets and the giant shelves of varied loaves of bread, you’ll remember why you’re there in the first place: to get some lunch. Or some bread. Or some cookies. Or all of those things.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Great Harvest Bread Company is indeed a chain. It’s a locally owned franchise, which means that local people own it and run it. The flour is milled in the store, and all of the bread is made in house. There seem to be some attempts at local collaboration; Great Harvest’s presence at Urbana’s Market at the Square each Saturday from May to November is perhaps the most visible. Last week the bakery debuted some autumn berry swirl bread made with Autumn Berry Inspired autumn berries and you can pick up some fruit leather in the store.

I had pretty much forgotten that Great Harvest Bread Company existed in the brick-and-mortar. Sure, I’ve seen the booth at the market on Saturday mornings, but I always seemed to overlook the store off of Neil Street, near Le Peep and Natural Gourmet. So the other day I was driving south on Neil when I noticed the hangriness taking hold. I didn’t want to eat the fried fast food that is in abundance in the area, and was starting to panic when I remembered that Great Harvest was in the area, and doesn’t that bakery also have sandwiches? Oh yes, yes it does.

The store was crowded with people. The lunch sandwich menu (all sandwiches $6.25, except PB&J, which is $4) is posted in the window near the door — perfect if you’re walking by, or trying to stay out of the way of the regulars who need their bread, of which there were several. The menu is pretty straightforward: ham, turkey, roast beef, veggies and sauces in a handful of varieties, bread thoughtfully paired with the various meat/cheese/veg/smear options. There are also three breakfast sandwich options ($2.95-$3.75) that consist of eggs with various accoutrement served on a biscuit or bread. As I stepped up to the counter to order, a pile of veggie and cheese and pepperoni and cheese rolls (as well as a variety of cookies) completely distracted me. I managed to pull myself together and order the roast beef and pepper jack sandwich for the husband and a veggie and cheese roll ($4.50) for myself. I asked for the roll to be warmed, and the folks working behind the counter were happy to oblige.

On each of the several occasions I’ve been in the bakery, the people working behind the counter have been more than pleasant. Part of Great Harvest’s mission is to give generously — and that translates directly into free samples and tastes for the customers. Each day there’s wide spread of samples all laid out on a cutting board, complete with a tub of butter and/or some other spreads, including whipped honey. I’ve tried several breads while waiting for sandwiches. The vanilla almond swirl was sweet and decadent (with butter), the challah was chewy and delicious (also with butter), and the autumn berry cinnamon swirl (butter, please) was awesome. Perhaps you need more fiber? The whole grain cinnamon swirl (hello, whipped honey with cinnamon) was amazing. In fact, I opted to buy a jar of the whipped honey because of it. Now I slather it on everything.

The sandwiches are made to order, so it was just a couple of minutes waiting before I had my bag of goodies. There aren’t any seats inside, so everything is to-go. In warmer months, it might be nice to have a few tables outside of the storefront, if that sort of thing is permissible by the landlord.

The veggie and cheese roll bread was chewy and mildly sweet. The veggies encased within had been cooked, but still remained crunchy. Because the roll was warm, the cheese was slightly melted and delicious. This was more than enough for lunch, although it was lacking a bit of protein, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it a well balanced lunch. I dropped off the roast beef sandwich to my husband, and later that day he wanted to know where it came from, and why we hadn’t eaten it before. Suffice to say it was a hit.

On my next visit, I opted for the Cuban Ruben sandwich: ham warmed with Swiss cheese, dill pickle, romaine lettuce, tomato, thousand island dressing on marble rye. This combination sounded tasty and delicious, and I was eager to get the sandwich home to eat. When I unwrapped it, I was disappointed to feel that it was room temperature; I don’t think it had been warmed. It was also missing the dill pickles, which meant my Cuban Ruben was simply a ham sandwich. Despite that disappointment, I quickly devoured it. The bread actually tasted like rye and was soft but remained sturdy. The sandwich was assembled well: the lettuce was placed between the bread and the tomato, which meant my bread didn’t get all soggy from the tomato juices. I should point out that I ordered the sandwich without the dressing, because I’m not a fan of thousand island and I didn’t want a soggy sandwich. The sandwich was really quite good. There was a good amount of meat, and the ratio of meat to cheese to veggie was on point. 

The spouse ordered the Mile High Marble Rye, a grilled sandwich featuring turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce, red onion, tomato, roasted garlic dill spread on marble rye. The smell of the sandwich was intoxicating as I drove home. It smelled amazing. The sandwich was grilled, for sure, and the bread was a lovely brown to prove it. Everything was warmed through, and the cheese was a little melty. The combination of flavors was delicious, with the saltiness of the meat and cheese mixing with the richness of the buttered and grilled bread and the dill of the spread and the slightly sweet onion all combining for a flavor bomb in the mouth. And while the sandwich was not exactly a mile high in height, it made up for it in flavor — and the bread held up under the weight of all of the ingredients.

But what if you can’t eat bread, you ask? Most of the sandwiches can be made paleo/low carb and (mostly) gluten free by request. Instead of bread, the contents (without cheese) are wrapped in romaine lettuce.

I’ve also had my fair share of sweets: I’ve sampled the snickerdoodle cookie, the raisin scone, and the lemon-blueberry tea cake, and all were delicious. I brought the tea cake with me to a gathering, and it didn’t stand a chance. The sweets were delicious, and in all cases, had nice textures and were just the right amount of sweet without being too saccharine.

There are a variety of breads baked daily and different monthly specials for breads, sweets, and sandwiches. You can pick up a loaf of Irish Soda Bread (made Monday through Saturday) until March 17th, or grab a Paddy Whack sandwich (house roasted corned beef brisket, slaw, marinated purple onions, thousand island, Swiss, on toasted and buttered onion dill rye) or tuna sandwich (Fridays during Lent). Check out the monthly menu for more details.

Great Harvest Bread Co. is located at the Shoppes of Knollwood, 2149 S. Neil Street, Champaign, and is open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

All photos by Jessica Hammie.

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