Panera Bread recently opened several locations in Nashville. Although it's a chain bakery, the selections are fresh and original. Their Asian Sesame Chicken Salad has lots of fresh cilantro and is topped with fried won ton wrappers, a nice change from croutons. Their sandwich selection is basic -- turkey, ham, tuna -- but is made more interesting by the fresh bread choices, including a variety of ciabattas. There's usually a basket with bread samples at the front of the restaurant.
The decor is colorful and sleek, with cozy armchairs, banquettes and booths to choose from. While waiting in line to order, customers can ogle the large display of desserts. The pecan roll I tried was dry, but on another visit the bear claw was flaky and delicious, not too sweet. Four selections of coffee and soda refills are available for diners (self-serve).
Although it's been busy each time I've visited, the line and food pickup move quickly. Sometimes seating is tight, with customers holding their trays and hovering over diners in no hurry to leave. There is an outdoor seating area (but I was there on a rainy day and a 95-degree day). Parking also is tight at this Vanderbilt University-area restaurant. There is a pay parking lot behind Panera Bread, but like all pay lots around the city it's not cheap.
Overall, Panera Bread is a great addition to the 21st Street/Vanderbilt selection of restaurants.