When I was in high school, I took an overseas trip that had a 14 hour layover in Heathrow. The only meals available at the airport were pre-packaged sandwiches wrapped in little plastic containers or candy bars. I decided sugar wasn’t a healthy way to get through my trip, so I grabbed the ham and cheese instead. Bad choice. That sandwich was one of the nastiest I have ever had — damp, flavorless, and I discovered after biting into it, with mold on the packaging. Something about the look and packaging of Pret A Manger reminded me so strongly of that experience that it kept me from considering it seriously as a lunch spot.
I ended up there one day because it was at a perfect in-between restaurant between me and a friend, and because I’d been chatting with someone about my royal wedding coffee mug that I won online. Pret A Manger, if you didn’t know, started in London in 1986 — a year after my first trip there.
I brushed off my bad memories and walked in just before the press of business people descended like locusts on the place. Pret A Manger reminds me strongly of an industrial cafeteria — neat, tidy and with an ample amount of shiny seating if you get there early. It wouldn’t be out of place at O’hare at all.
There are several pre-packaged full and half-sandwich and salad options available, and you can dispense your own soup to-go as well. However, that’s where the comparison to my remembered airport food stops. The chain prides itself on items made fresh daily, and their sandwich choices include seasonal and ethnic choices.
I tried a half-sandwich stuffed with shrimp, avocado, and fresh greens. The sweet chili sauce on top had a satisfying kick, and made me wish I’d gotten a full-size portion. My friend went with a nicoise salad that was perfect and sizable. The boiled eggs didn’t have that ring of green around the yolk that comes from over-cooking, and the tomato wasn’t at all mushy. Fresh, tasty, and healthy? Yes to all three.
I was suitably impressed with the food, though I still don’t like the looks of the place. Pret A Manger just released their new Summer menu, so I’ll probably drop by and get a hummus & veggie sandwich or some lentils & couscous to go. For $10 or less, it’s in-line with downtown lunch prices and a better choice than most of the fast-food in the area.
Pret A Manger
211 West Adams Street
Chicago, IL 60606