Dining Out: Great Harvest goes beyond bread

In addition to many fresh-baked varieties of its signature item, it offers hearty sandwiches, tasty treats

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Why: Great Harvest Bread Company has come to Vancouver. It’s likely you are familiar with the quality breads, sweets, sandwiches and gift basket items offered at Great Harvest. The company began back in the 1970s and has grown to more than 200 franchises strong with whole wheat breads being the cornerstone of the business. Owners of the Vancouver location, David and Rebecca Juarez, operate a “Freedom Franchise” that allows them to tailor how they operate their store according to the needs of the community, while having full access to franchise recipes and processes.

Atmosphere: Warm and inviting best describes the sense when you walk into Great Harvest. The smell of fresh-baked bread products awakens the appetite and a friendly, “May I get you a sample,” greets you before you reach the counter.

Antique kitchen tables and shelving displays gift basket fillers such as coffee, jams, syrups, peanut butter, honey and various Great Harvest baking mixes. These, of course, are not exclusively for gift baskets, but may be enjoyed by anyone.

There are enough tables and chairs to provide seating for a moderate crowd. Racks filled with fresh baked breads are on display behind the counter and baked goodies are attractively presented just beyond a spotless glass partition between customers and bakers. Chalk menu boards are easy to read above the counter and wood laminate flooring lends a clean and stylish feel to the space.

What I tried: I tried the California cobb sandwich on honey whole wheat bread and I purchased a variety of baked items to go: monkey bites, blueberry and cream cheese scone, pumpkin bar, apple crunch bread, cinnamon chip bread and a Trek Bar.

The California cobb sandwich was made with lean, thinly sliced turkey, crunchy bacon, avocado mash, leafy green lettuce, red onion and blue cheese spread. Wrapped in paper and cut in half, the sandwich was piled high with ingredients and a bit difficult to eat. Compounding this was the fresh baked bread it was made on, which had a tendency to give under the pressure of holding it. However, the flavor was well worth the challenge of eating it. All the ingredients stood on their own without any dominating the sandwich experience. I was especially fond of the presence of the blue cheese spread and how it flattered all the elements, and I was thankful that the red onion was thinly-sliced and sparingly applied.

I shared many of the baked items among the staff back at the office and the general consensus was “outstanding.” The pumpkin bar was said to be 80 percent of the quality enjoyed by a home recipe for a pumpkin roll. If you’re fond on pumpkin pie, don’t pass it up.

The apple crunch bread has green apple slices incorporated moderately throughout the bread and a brown sugar crunch topping at the center of the loaf. The result is a sweet bread with a wholesome personality.

My personal favorite was the blueberry and cream cheese scone. Unlike a traditional scone, which is very dry, this one was very moist, just a bit crumbly and fragrantly sweet. I appreciated the fresh blueberries and the pure dollop of cream cheese added to the scone instead of wilted bits of berries and a sugary, filling-variety of cream cheese. It was like having a scone ready to eat without the hassle of dressing it up with fruit and cream cheese.

The cinnamon chip bread made great toast but the real magic with this one is to use it to make French toast. Unbelievable!

Trek Bars are sold individually wrapped and made with a conglomeration of healthful ingredients. I noted oatmeal, raisins, cranberries, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and a hint of chocolate amid the bar. A terrific trail bar for quick energy on the go.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: If the aroma isn’t enough, breads with names such as Red White & Blueberry, Popeye, Cranberry Orange Crush and Breakfast Burst are sure to tempt.

Baked items include maple scones, caramel apple spice muffins, lemon bars, sunrise breakfast rolls, lemon lavender cookies, and pumpkin hazelnut cake bread.

A Louisville chicken salad sandwich and a pepper bleu roast beef are exclusive lunch sandwich options.

Other observations: A monthly baking schedule is available in the store and on the website. Not all items are available every day.

Breads are hot out of the oven between 9:30 a.m. and noonish.

Unfortunately for me, being the bread pudding fan that I am, they were out of bread pudding on my visit. This treat is made almost every day and varies according to the type of breads incorporated. The upside to this unfortunate circumstance is a reason for a return visit.

The staff was friendly and knowledgeable about products and presented themselves professionally. Their attire is casual and neat and pleasantly void of baking ingredients.

Cost: Breads cost between $5.95 and $8.90 per loaf. Sweets are between $2.10 and $2.95 each. Sandwiches are $3 to $8.95. Coffee and other beverages range from $2.25 to $4.75.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Telephone: 360-859-3481.

Where: 13215 S.E. Mill Plain Boulevard, Suite C5, Vancouver. www.vancouverwa.greatharvestbread.com

Health score: Great Harvest Bread Company received a score of 0 on Oct. 25. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.