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The Journal Gazette

  • Ryan DuVall Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall The Works panini from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall Chicken Noodle soup from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall A Reuben from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall A Chef Salad from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Broccoli-cheese soup from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall The Cuban panini from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall Chili from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

  • Ryan DuVall The Soutwest Club wrap from Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue.

Sunday, December 25, 2016 10:10 pm

Local restaurant owner takes on panini shop

Ryan DuVall | Restaurant critic

It certainly looked like one of those fast-casual sandwich chains with its sleek black-and-red color scheme, shiny black and gray textured concrete floor and its nifty all-black drop ceiling effect with ceiling fans to match.

Mr. Panini at Coliseum Boulevard and Parnell Avenue is not one of those chain places, however. It is the brainchild of Mehrdad Dehmiri, owner of Sun Rise Cafe in Pine Valley Shopping Center who, I was told by the folks working there, had long wanted to give a sandwich shop a try.

There is probably no other restaurant game as competitive as the fast-casual sandwich game, so I was eager to see how Mr. Panini stood up.

And in the end, it sort of fell down.

For starters, these sandwiches are not your $5 foot-long variety. The only $5 sandwich is on the kids menu. The rest start at $7.35 and only get more expensive.

That price does include a bag of chips, but there are only two choices – Miss Vickie’s sea salt or barbecue. Mr. Panini is not going to compete with the chains when it comes to variety.

That lack of choices carried over to the paninis, which can be had with only white bread or rye. The bread is made at Ted’s Market, but it was pretty much regular bread and not at all what I would consider specialty.

The best sandwich was the Reuben, which had a decent amount of Boar’s Head corned beef, crunchy sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. It had a little too much Thousand Island dressing and the rye was timid, but it was still a respectable sandwich.

As was the case with all of the paninis; however, the bread was not toasted enough and had no crunch. None of the sandwiches were really pressed enough to be what I consider a good panini.

This really hurt The Works panini, which was a daily feature. It had pepperoni, sausage, poblano peppers, onions, pepperoncini, green tomatoes and marinara sauce. It spent so little time on the press that the sauce was flat out cold. The tomatoes were diced too small to have any impact, there was just a single layer of pepperoni and not enough crumbled sausage to give the sandwich any weight.

For something called "The Works" I expected more. And I definitely expected it to be hot.

Soup is also available. During one visit chicken noodle and chili were offered. But on another, there was only one – broccoli-cheese.

The latter was the best of the bunch with broccoli that still had a little crunch to it and a nicely seasoned, creamy, cheesy base that hit the right spot during this cold spell. The chili was very dark, had sort of a harsh, scorched flavor and lacked the vibrance or sweetness tomatoes impart. The chicken noodle had thick noodles and plenty of nicely stewed chicken, but lacked seasoning, which exposed another of Mr. Panini’s flaws.

There was no salt or pepper in the area where plastic flatware, napkins and such were provided. I asked one of the employees if I could get some and it took them 10 minutes to bring it.

During another visit when I looked for a plastic knife to cut one of my paninis to share with a dining companion, there were none of those to be found. This time when I asked the staff for one, I was told they didn’t have any knives.

To finish up the finer details that Mr. Panini failed at, even the fountain drinks were flawed. The straws that were provided were too short for the cups so less than an inch protruded from the top after a lid was placed on it.

Next to the Reuben, the best thing at Mr. Panini wasn’t even a panini, it was a wrap. Any sandwich can be made into a wrap, and I chose the Southwest Club with turkey, bacon, cheddar, avocado and spicy mayo packed into a cheese tortilla.

The avocado is what made this wrap so good as it gave it a creamy richness that was the perfect foil to the crispy bacon. It could have used a little more of the mayo because I had a hard time detecting it, but it was still tasty. It was not tasty – or big – enough, however, to cost nearly $10.

Given the wrap and the Reuben had their sauces incorporated, I was surprised that the whole-grain mustard for the Cuban panini came on the side. I would have preferred the traditional yellow mustard on this sandwich, which had meaty pulled, roasted pork, but, again, not enough of it. The best part of the sandwich was the crispy pickle chips, which was telling.

The Chef Salad – one of three salads offered – was pretty serviceable in a basic sort of way. It had ham, turkey, a sliced boiled egg, cucumber, tomatoes, shredded cheese and croûtons over shredded iceberg – the same used on the sandwiches.

Again I was left with too few choices at Mr. Panini, this time when it came to dressings as there was only Thousand Island, French or ranch. I could have had vinegar and oil, too, I was told, but that would take a few minutes to mix together, and I wasn’t willing to wait as long for the vinegar and oil as I did for salt and pepper.

Waiting was a problem. These sandwiches did not come out fast. During one visit, it took more than 15 minutes to get my food.

That, combined with the fact that pretty much every panini I had could have easily been made and made better by me at home – my grocery carries white and rye bread and Boar’s Head deli meats, and I have a George Foreman Grill – at a lesser cost, has me saying something I never like to say: The chain places are a better option in this case.

Restaurant: Mr. Panini

Address: 1019 Coliseum Blvd. E.

Phone: 423-1300

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Cuisine: Sandwiches

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Reuben ($8.50), Cuban ($8.50), The Works ($7.95), Southwest Club ($9.35), chef salad ($7.95), soup ($3.75)

Rating breakdown: Food: 1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.