Little market that can 

Toscano & Sons on the Westside

In the world of sandwich shops, bigger is always better -- and you often pay accordingly. But there is something to be said for the quaint little Italian market, where owners with a tie to the Old Country specialize in modest panini and just enough stuff to make your own romantic little Italian dinner.

And that's what Toscano & Sons Italian Market is all about, staking a humble claim to a stretch of Marietta Street that already has reliable sandwich spots such as West Egg and Octane, not to mention the high-falutin' fare at Star Provisions farther down on Howell Mill Road. But there's an undeniable charm to this work in progress, which focuses on quality over quantity and keeps the panini dirt-cheap at $4.50 a pop.

Urban, and International, Explorers: The names of owners Kathy Boehmer and John Reed may not sound Italian, but get this -- Boehmer's a second-generation Italian-American who named the joint after her grandfather, and has joined Reed (a Brit) in touring her ancestral homeland several times. They liked the opportunities that Midtown West provides as a neighborhood growth spot.

Less Is More: As it continues to evolve just a month after opening, Toscano's is content to offer five panini -- one for every weekday, if the mood strikes you. And it probably will, thanks to highlights such as the eponymous Toscano: soppressata, fontina and arugula, set on ciabatta bread courtesy of Bread Garden bakery.

But Wait, There's More: You can keep it meat-free with two of the panini, whether with the basic Caprese (mozzarella, tomato and pesto) or a glorified grilled Italian cheese sandwich in the Giovanni, with both taleggio and fontina cheese over truffle oil. Go the traditional panino route and get the sandwich grilled, or leave it as is; I have no problem eating any of these sandwiches cold. Finish them off with a selection of cookies from local Meoli's. (My fave: the Venetian, with its subtle hints of almond and apricot filling the patriotic red-white-and-green-layered chocolate.)

Sometimes, Less Is ... Less: There's nothing wrong with finding your legs, and it's clear that Toscano's is still evolving and will get better. On every third visit or so, the owners mention a new panino to come, a more set schedule of special events, more wines, and so on. There's always something new being added. We can't wait for the final product. Still, the young help behind the counter sometimes skimps on the ingredients of a panino, and the owners set out free samples of olive oils, meats and cheeses one day and then pull them back the next. These inconsistencies should be eliminated over time.

To Market, To Market: Besides a deli case that sells pastas, meats and cheeses, Toscano's features a handful of bookcases loaded with still more pastas, red sauces, olive oils, canned vegetables (olives, eggplant, etc.), bagged bruschetta and more to help prepare a nice meal at home. On one trip, I challenged a staff member to set me up with the ingredients for a such a meal; he nodded, went in the back, and returned with a recipe from Emeril Lagasse's website. Extra credit for selecting a recipe that featured pancetta, or as I like to call it, God's bacon. And the Sangiovese pulled from the modest Italian wine selection was cheap ($10) and a nice match.

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