Restaurant Review :: PIQ Berkeley

The acronym in PIQ Berkeley stands for "Pane Italiano Qualita" (translation: quality Italian bread), but I could only think of one word upon visiting: wow. The Italian bakery brings a much-needed authentic slice of Italy to downtown Berkeley. Its credentials are quite impressive: founded in part by a former AC Milan football star, the eatery is modeled after casual Italian espresso bars and was inspired by Italy's own slow food movement. Of course, a concept is nothing without great execution -- but PIQ definitely nails it.

A table in front of the counter welcomes customers with seasonal decorations and different "bread sculptures" each day.

PIQ even offers an elevator for easy access between its two floors.

PIQ is located on prime corner property, boasting two floors of open seating; huge windows and open entrances let in lots of natural light and fresh air. The bakery, despite its traditional good food, has clean, modern lines and a leisurely atmosphere; it's an ideal gathering place and study spot. The frenetic energy that defines a lot of American coffee shops is absent here; rather, PIQ's atmosphere encourages you to slow down and savor your (really good) food.

The spread of baked goods changes each day; while there's no menu, you can be sure to find something you like.

Caprice focaccia bread fresh out of the oven.

And the food... oh, yum. The variety behind the glass cases is jaw-dropping -- my pictures definitely don't do it justice. On this particular visit, my culinary companion and I tried a ham and mushroom calzone and a prosciutto and salami sub. They tasted just as good as they looked; the breads fresh, the fillings savory and flavorful. The meat made a difference, however; we both agreed that anything with real Italian sausage was bound to be better than those with ham. I've also tried PIQ's pizzettes and focaccia, and they're all similarly delicious. My only word of warning would be that, as in many Italian dishes, greens can be lacking; vegetarians and vegans may be harder-pressed to find a savory good to eat.

One of PIQ's three iPads, framed by our selections of the day: calzone, espresso, fruit tart, and a sandwich.

A close-up of the mushroom calzone.

A close-up of the prosciutto and salami sub.

Any eater, however, can enjoy drinks and dessert. My friend liked his espresso; PIQ offers Mr. Espresso coffee, which was founded by a fellow Italian and uses oak wood roasting processes. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of tea selections, although beverage options may broaden when PIQ obtains its soft liquor license. I decided to go the pastry route, ordering a fruit tart that tasted both buttery and bright at the same time. Our meal was made even sweeter by playing with the iPads that PIQ provides for customer use.

The fruit tart with an espresso. All photos by the author.

Although PIQ may be a casual cafe, its service is always on point. There is a significant chance that Rufo Verga himself will be taking your order, or that one of the jovial Italian founders will be warming up your baked goods. Either way, they serve you great food with lots of warmth. In the words of the owner who helped me, "You can do whatever you want here, sweetheart -- this is Italy!"

PIQ Berkeley is located at 91 Shattuck Square in downtown Berkeley.

Julie Dinh
BARE Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment