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Nov 6, 2010 03:51 PM

Perfect PIQ (Pane Italiano Qualita) Bakery in downtown Berkeley

I had lunch with my girlfriends a week ago, and everything was so good I went back with the husband and kids the next day. PIQ has it all – a beautiful space, friendly staff, and wonderful baked goods, including panini made on fresh-baked breads, and a huge case of desserts and pastries. It’s worth a visit just for the fanciful bread sculptures – a giant green crocodile last weekend, plus a family of turtles eating lettuce.

The food! My friends and I shared an olive “flute” roll stuffed with ham. The flutes are also available whole – over a foot long, just as many olives as bread. Delicious. We also shared a caprese sandwich on a red bell pepper roll. The roll was airy, sweet, flavorful – even better with the filling of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella balls, prosciutto, and more roasted red pepper. The owner, Nick (?), came by and introduced himself and gave us raspberry chocolate tartlets to try.

The next day my family shared an olive roll with coppa, a mushroom roll with caprese, foccacia with mortadella, and a chicken Milanese panino (breaded fried chicken with a shredded cabbage slaw). My husband (the ultimate foodie) kept saying “amazing” under his breath between bites of his sandwich. For dessert, we had cannoli, chocolate cake, and an incredible nutella and pear tart. Everything was fresh and the perfect combination of texture and flavor.

Why aren’t there lines out the door? Usually you see this quality and sheen at a place on Union Square or in NY. PIQ is an easy BART ride from almost anywhere in the Bay Area; help us keep this gem in business!

91 Shattuck Square, Berkeley, CA 94704

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  1. thanks for this, i will definitely check it out. i'm a little amazed - i spent 5 months in Italy - primarily in the Piemonte region, but then traveling through Genoa, Rome, Venice, Tuscany, Florence, etc., and found exactly 3 instances of decent bread. My BF, my cousin who came to visit, and I, all agreed, the bread in Italy overall was terrible. Tasteless, bland and cottony, with rare exceptions. I wonder what region "Nick" is from, and if we just missed the good bread spots... ? Having just come from a month in France at the time, the poor quality of the bread in Italy was especially striking. I am looking forward to hearing PIQ's story!

    2 Replies
    1. re: mariacarmen

      During my travels in Italy I found that the further South one goes, the better the bread.

    2. I've been a few times for lunch, and there have been lines, though not out the door. An airy-light focaccia with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and arugula was excellent. Even a simple sandwich of prosciutto and cheese on a fresh roll is wonderful.

      They do have some competition in that there are three pizza joints within a couple of blocks (Arinell, Pie in the Sky, Bobby G's), and slices are more expensive here, but the quality of the products is quite a bit better. An Italian couple was swooning and marveling in Italian while on the line today.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ernie in berkeley

        I went to pick up a baguette and foccacia last night and was not blown away. I don't know enough about Italian bread to rule out the possibility that they are doing a true Italian style which I happen not to like? Baguette was fluffy without much crunch in the crust. Not so different from a Safeway deli baguette. Chocolate "soft biscotti" were a bit better--mostly cinnamon/spice flavor with a hint of chocolate. $9 for a bag of 4 or 5 (admittedly large) cookies!

        1. re: sandunga_rbb

          The sandwiches really remind me of cafes in Italy.

      2. Sweet confections also wonderful, especially items made with the brioche dough and their nutella-filled pastry. Oh my.

        1. For lunch today I shared a slice of strudel salato (sort of like a calzone), a slice of the mushroom pizza, and a focaccia sandwich. Nothing was all that similar to the versions of those items I had when I lived in Italy, but the flavors really took me back. The focaccia is remarkably light.

          5 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong

                They've had the sfogliatelle when I've stopped by mid-day. It's beautiful to behold but I found the layers tough and the filling too sparse and lacking in flavor (I know, I know: "The food was terrible and the servings were too small" . . .),

                1. re: dordogne

                  I think savory stuff is their strong point. The pastries didn't look as good.

                  1. re: dordogne

                    Had a sfogliatelle today. It was not at all tough, but very crispy. I do agree that the filling lacked taste as it was too heavy in the semolina and so just a dough ball with some peel in it (orange? Meyer lemon?) Needs more ricotta % in my opinion.

                    Actually, somewhat tough was how I remember sfogliatelle when I was young and we used to go to Papa Lito's. The slightly tough dough lent itself to unwrapping in long strips if you were careful (or a child with OCD). I'd prefer it slightly more that way but I think letting it sit a day might make it more like I remember, though we got fresh ones then.

              2. The place was doing a brisk business today. I liked the Milanese sandwich -- but is breaded chicken and slaw really eaten in Milan? Two of us shared one and it was fine for a light lunch -- and a good deal.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Glencora

                  Sfogliatelle?! OMG, my childhood! I've never seen them out here. Must get to this place.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    i was just there on Friday and my friend concurred that the Milanese was a good deal even shared. I tried the breakfast pizza which was a personal sized pizza with a light red sauce, a little cheese and lots of prosciutto topped with a sunny side up egg. very tasty. and I think it was about $5 or so.

                    Also had one of their "savory strudels" the strudel salato that Mr. Lauriston described above. Also very good. it was topped with mushrooms and inside were artichokes, onions, a light cheese and ham. Also very good.

                    1. re: Glencora

                      They bread and pan-fry cutlets in Milan, hence the name, but the cole slaw is local influence.