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This week we have more from that old standby, Lean Cuisine. As we've tested the Chicken Ranch Club Flatbread Melt before (four years ago), we chose to review the Philly-Style Steak & Cheese Panini (350 calories, 520mg sodium, 2g fiber) first.
Both of the sandwiches we're reviewing this week are toasted in the microwave by way of a metallic insert in the product box. In the past we've seen these used for other sandwiches as well as pizzas, but I don't recall them ever resulting in anything coming out truly toasted. To be fair, this doesn't usually matter very much, but when the item is supposed to be a panini, our expectations were a little bit higher than usual.
One of our panelists insisted that we make it clear right from the start that this is *not* a Philly Cheese Steak. Fair enough - the package does say "Philly-Style." It's fairly processed-looking strips of beef with diced green and red bell peppers, short strips of onion, and both provolone and cheddar cheese on white bread.
Is it toasted like a panini? Hardly. But the bread is at least a little toasted and the cheese is "all melty," so while it's not a panini, it is a hot sandwich.
And a pretty tasty one. The beef has the almost chewy texture that roast beef is supposed to have, although it's clear from looking at the meat here that it's quite processed. Still, it has a decent beef flavor and there's "enough that you don't feel cheated."
There's also plenty of cheese, although the real highlights of this sandwich - like a real Philly Cheese Steak - are the onions and peppers. They add pops of sweetness and umami that elevate this sandwich to truly satisfying. Thumbs up for this dish ("as long as you know it's not a Philly Cheese Steak.").
In contrast, the Chicken Ranch Club Flatbread Melt is, in a word, disappointing - especially since the last time we reviewed it we gave it a thumbs up. Back in 2015 this sandwich had 370 calories, 530mg sodium, and 4g fiber - while today it has 410 calories, 500mg sodium, and 2g fiber. More calories, less sodium, and less fiber - what else changed?
The bread seems to be the same - a thick, soft, and tender flatbread with hints of oregano and basil. Like the beef in the panini, the chicken is clearly processed, and there's plenty of cheese and green onions.
Yet we found this sandwich bland. We couldn't taste the Ranch dressing at all, and the bacon seemed nonexistent until we got a bite that seemed to be all bacon. The green onions should have given the sandwich a pop of spice, but they were somehow subdued as well - although they did lend the sandwich some texture with their crunch.
Even the cheese was "weirdly bland."
"A sandwich this messy to eat [the filling did tend to leak out] shouldn't be this boring," said the panel. The Philly-Style Steak & Cheese Panini has fewer calories but tons more flavor. Leave the flatbread on the shelf.
Review posted: December 13, 2019