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Friday, May 11, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Neighborhood deals: Toast of Queen Anne? Bagel-paninis are still a work in progress

Special to The Seattle Times

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A meal at Best Toast is an extended game of "What were they thinking?" Bagel sandwiches are a fine idea. Panini are always a crowd-pleaser. But sesame bagel panini? With cheese sauce on the outside?

Best Toast


2209 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle

206-298-9300

Israeli

American

$

Not recommended.

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily (expanded summer hours coming soon).

No credit cards / no obstacles / no liquor license.

Actually, according to one of the Israeli owners of Best Toast, "It's not like a Noah's bagel - it's bread in a round form." On the other hand, their flier calls it a bagel, so I will feel free to do the same. The sandwich idea hails from the Middle East, and the owners discovered it in their travels.

"We haven't had one bad response out of over 2,000 sandwiches we've served," they assured me.

I'm not convinced there's enough mileage in the concept to make Best Toast a hit, but they've got a great location at Queen Anne Avenue North and Boston Street, in the space vacated by the McCarthy & Schiering wine shop. They've given it a new coat of paint, hung rugs on the walls and added a few tables, though most business is takeout.

The sandwich makers are chatty and quite receptive to customer suggestions. The restaurant started out with no meats; customers requested meat, and they complied, bringing in prosciutto (presumably not part of the Israeli original), salami and sliced turkey. Someone asked for cranberry sauce to go with the turkey, and the owner went right out and bought some. (However, I don't know if I want to meet the person who requested canned corn as a sandwich ingredient.)

Vegetables, any and all available at no extra charge, include black and green olives, artichoke hearts, spinach, red onions and tomatoes. There are two types of cream cheese (garlic and dill) as well as havarti, jack, cheddar and Muenster, but most of these are unfortunately of the pre-sliced, shrink-wrapped persuasion.

Each sandwich also gets a squirt of herbed cheese sauce and a hefty shake of dried herbs before going into the grill, and before the lid comes down, another dollop of cheese sauce goes on top of the bread. I had to rub my eyes. Did I really see that?

The result of this sauce profligacy is mixed: The bagel gets a crusty, cheesy character, but also ends up slightly burnt and greasy. No sandwich can rise above its ingredients, and the fixings here too often have an institutional feel, but there are key exceptions, such as the imported prosciutto and the roasted peppers. And I'm a sucker for jalapeños, even if they do come from a jar.

The bread is currently made by Leah's Bakery, but Best Toast plans to start baking it on-site as soon as it gets an oven. And the restaurant plans to start offering, in the near future, falafel (served in a pita) and burekas, puff pastry stuffed with potato, cheese or vegetables and popular in Israel and Turkey. Ultimately, the owners would like to branch out into new locations.

So consider this a portrait of a sandwich - and a restaurant - in search of itself.

Check please

Ham and cheddar sandwich: This sandwich (which is probably the least kosher thing you can possibly do with a bagel) was saved from dullness by real Italian prosciutto and a sprinkling of green olives.

Turkey and havarti sandwich: Aside from the novelty of the bagel-panini concept, this sandwich was a little bland, but maybe that's because we turned down the offer of cranberry sauce.

Chicken noodle soup: Not as good as Campbell's. Enough said.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Ham and cheddar sandwich, $6.50

Turkey and havarti sandwich, $6.50

Chicken noodle soup, $2.75

Snapple, $1.25

Tax, $1.58

TOTAL, $18.58

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