Pan Forte

The wide variety of Italian sandwiches at PIQ

Stroll into PIQ (which stands for Pane Italiano Qualità) in downtown Berkeley, and the first thing you'll notice is a pileup of sandwiches next to a Faema espresso machine, conjuring your favorite bar in Rome or Milan.

Look closer, and you'll see that these are some of the most carefully made sandwiches around, on one of more than 10 styles of house-baked bread. Each is filled with ingredients specific to one Italian region and perfectly balanced between starch and protein. (None contain more than three ingredients.)

Airy and lightly oiled, the focaccia is straight out of a Ligurian seaside port and served in various incarnations daily. The Parma ($6.75) features prosciutto, mozzarella and arugula; the Valdostana ($6.75) is akin to a rustic pie and layered with such items as eggplant, tomato and more arugula.

Baguette-like sfilatino houses a Milanese classic of lightly fried chicken cutlets and cabbage salad ($7.50).

Tiny rounds of pane al latte (milk bread) are ideal for a snack. Other recent sandwiches included the Roman panino ($1.75) with prosciutto cotto and Fontina, and the Perugia ($1.75), which boasted Tuscan-style salami made locally by Oakland's Fra' Mani.

Finally, a Berkeley invention all its own is the olive flute, a long, narrow bread liberally punctuated with green olives and served plain ($2.50) or with prosciutto or salami ($3.50).

So many sandwich breads; so little time.

PIQ, 91 Shattuck Square, Berkeley; 510-540-7700 or piqberkeley.com