Hey, Bellevue, name your pie; he ain't got all day
Special to The Seattle Times
"Take all the time you want to order ... you got another 3 seconds!" cracked the wiseacre behind the counter, his brow in need of a mop, his accent a spectacle of indeterminacy. Several nervous suburbanites shuffled their feet in the long line, studying the board with renewed urgency. What'll it be — one of the 16 pizzas? Nine calzones? Thirteen subs? Eleven baked pastas?
Such are the wrenching decisions afflicting the denizens of downtown Bellevue, where veteran Seattle restaurateur Robert Abergel has opened Topolino's, and with it, taken the city by storm.
It's not just that Topolino's delivers (from 130th to the lake, between the bridges) — although that, judging from the dearth of quality competitors, comes not a moment too soon for pie-starved nearby neighborhoods. It's that the pizza is just terrific, built on hand-hewn crust chewy as a perfect bagel and topped with garlicky marinara and quality toppings from roasted eggplant to pepperoncini, pico de gallo to herby ricotta.
Abergel and his crew bake all the breads from scratch, pizza and calzone crusts to submarine loaves, so those items bear the better part of Topolino's distinction.
More than a little of its charm, however, undoubtedly owes to Abergel's pedigree. The wiseacre in question boasts lineage both French and Italian — Topolino was his maternal grandfather — both of which accents he conveys by way of a decided edge of Brooklynese. (Or was that just the pizza speaking to me?)
In 1989 Abergel opened the original Topolino's (now closed) at Third Avenue and Pike Street in downtown Seattle. True to his global style he's also dabbled in Euro-Asian cuisine ("Now they're calling it fusion — I was doing it in 1988!") and sheepishly admits to owning a Mexican restaurant in Pinehurst. "What can I say? I'm addicted to Mexican food!"
Lucky for Bellevue, he's also rather partial to stromboli calzones and portobello subs.
Don't come expecting much in the way of décor, or anything so fancy as, say, a seat — Topolino's is a no-frills takeout operation (with no sightline left unobstructed by a fluorescent-bright sign screaming "Lunch special!" or "Sorry, no slices!"), and offers just four chairs around a single table.
What you can expect is something this part of Bellevue could certainly use — a pretty delish takeout lunch or dinner with a big character to dish it all out.
Small gourmet pesto pizza: Slathered with basil pesto, dolloped with herby ricotta, scattered with pecorino Romano and spangled with pimento, this pie was a whale of a success from its first fragrant moments in the oven to the last crumb we inhaled. A beautifully modulated sauce may be part of the reason — even the cheese pizza we tried tasted interesting thanks to its garlicky sauce — and certainly the toppings were fresh and harmoniously composed. But I keep coming back to that crust, a disc with all the flavor of its thin and crackly cousins but with a chewier, to my mind more satisfying, texture.
Sausage and pepper calzone: "You don't have a good marinara sauce, you don't have a good calzone," quipped Abergel, and it may well be true — but nobody's going to prove it at Topolino's. A little dipping bowl of feisty marinara arrived with our calzone, which was stuffed to its golden crust with ricotta, pecorino, roasted onions, herbs, sliced Italian sausage and pepper galore. Hard to say which was more fun: The luscious texture of the cheesy crust or letting my inner child fingerpaint it with the marinara.
Topolino's salad for two: This happy surprise of a salad contained enough romaine, garbanzos and red beans, red onion, mozzarella and pimento to feed four — but thankfully it didn't have to. (It also comes in a single size for $4.95.) All bound up in a creamy balsamic vinaigrette, the flavors were a terrific, crisp counterpoint to the pizzas.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Small gourmet pesto pizza $12.95
Sausage and pepper calzone $7.95
Topolino's salad for two $8.95
Kathryn Robinson: KathAnRob@aol.com.