My trip to Prêt a Manger was prefaced with a walk though a quasi-tornado wind tunnel, per usual Evanston weather. However, the café itself, the newest addition to Evanston’s restaurant scene, was a warm and welcoming beacon of hope as I looked from the outside in. For those of you not yet fluent in French, Prêt a Manger literally means “ready to eat”; however, all stereotypes aside, this isn’t your local BK lounge.
The walls facing Church Street are entirely made of windows, allowing potential customers to peek inside. The interior walls are covered in red brick with food-inspired artwork and Prêt slogans engraved into wood panels. It’s clean and friendly, with long wooden tables inviting groups and small nooks for individual study. For the Facebook addicts among us, there’s even free Wi-Fi.
When I walked into Prêt the first thing I noticed is that none of their menu options are made-to-order. In fact, you are actually greeted with refrigerators and warming compartments holding salads and sandwiches, pre-wrapped and pre-made fresh daily. Prêt capitalizes on "grab n’ go" dining.
Walking up to the register, the only thing you can really “order” is a cup of soup that they will pour for you on the spot–or a “toastie”, a pre-made sandwich that they will panini press for you per demand. Wooden shelves and carts are filled with assorted chips, bags of organic popcorn, nuts and Prêt’s specialty granola bars. If this sounds like a gourmet version of a C-Store to you, you’re right. Though it’s not exactly the old carrot sticks and questionable chicken avocado sandwiches you’re used to, it's certainly reminiscent. Prêt guarantees that everything is fresh and made without chemicals, additives or preservatives.
The only potential complications are for customers with any allergies or dietary restrictions. Since everything is pre-made, customizing your meal to meet your specific tastes or needs is not exactly an option. In addition, the idea of “fresh” is your call, as you can’t see your food being made.
Yet, I will be the first to attest that the food at Prêt is actually quite tasty and sold at a reasonable price. A small bowl of soup, sandwich and bag of chips will most likely run you under $10.
Their Chicken Mozzarella Baguette boasts chunks of grilled chicken and fresh mozzarella cheese, topped with arugula and a balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, it wasn’t the most delicious sandwich of my life, but it’s definitely a satisfying option for an Evanston lunch on the go.
The Tomato Feta soup, with pieces of fresh feta cheese, was in fact a flavorful alternative to the can of Campbell’s you have chilling in your dorm room. It brings together an interesting combination that will effectively warm you up after a cold walk to CVS.
Sure, Prêt a Manger might fail to make your “best bite” list for Evanston. The food is far from exceptional and the "serve yourself" atmosphere leaves you craving a bit more personal service. Maybe it failed to live up all the excitement, but with plenty of options at reasonable prices, Prêt will definitely become a regular spot for grabbing snacks on snacks on snacks.