Paesano’s is not just Girard Avenue’s favorite neighborhood spot anymore. It is now openly celebrated as one of Philadelphia’s very best sandwich destinations, a draw for food tourists from around the region and beyond. An extension of Chef Peter McAndrews’ classic Italian BYOB Modo Mio (itself a Best Of Philly winner for Prix Fixe), Paesano’s was named Best Of Philly Sandwich Shop and was named Glen Macnow’s overall winner of the Great Italian Hoagie Hunt. We caught up with Chef McAndrews to find out where he goes from here.
Paesano’s opened with a simple mission: Chef McAndrews wanted a decent lunch place for himself and the Modo Mio staff. When the space across the street from Modo Mio became available, Chef and his partner, Nathan Baynes, jumped in and started making food that is affordable with integrity, cooked in the Italian theme and style. Chef McAndrews believed that sandwiches could be made with more taste and love than most other places; he explained that there are a thousand cheesesteaks, but probably only 30 that are good, that achieve harmony of meat, cheese, onions and bread. (for the record, Chef McAndrews likes his steak chopped.) The results speak for themselves: “the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted,” and “my favorite sandwich place” are common refrains among customers, who line up down the street to get a bite at lunchtime.
An Italian cooked sandwich shop, not a traditional hoagie shop, Paesano’s uses Liscio’s hoagie rolls because they hold up to wet sandwiches better than other rolls. And they cut off the ends of the bread because in Chef McAndrews’ view, no one wants to feel like they got shortchanged on ingredients because of that end. But don’t worry – you’ll find the ends reemerge as bread crumbs across the street. The sandwich names are largely based in the Italian language: Gustaio (lamb sausage) means “good taste”; Arista (roast pork) means “the best part of the pig”; Diavlo (spicy chicken) means “the devil”. But Daddy Wad (the award winning Italian hoagie) has a decidedly different etymology: it was Chef McAndrews’ childhood nickname, befitting a self-described “big kid.”
The Daddy Wad’s coronation as Best Italian Hoagie has catapulted it to the top selling item at Paesano’s, displacing the Arista, a porchetta sandwich with broccoli rabe, Italian long hots, sharp provolone and natural jus. The broth is the key to the flavor, according to the Chef, who sources locally-raised Lancaster suckling pigs (under 21 lbs). The roast pork is topped with broccoli rabe that is cut properly for a sandwich (bite-sized) and enough sharp provolone to add that creamy, tangy burst of flavor. The Gustaio, Paesano’s lamb sausage sandwich, is a harmonious balance of flavors: intense gorgonzola, sweet heat from the sundried cherry moustarda, hearty lamb, and sweet fennel on flatbread. And the Tuscan Tony, Paesano’s decadent take on the Texas Tommy, serves up a fried hot dog wrapped in soppresata then smothered in Bolognese sauce. With options for vegetarians and meat lovers alike, Paesano’s satisfies all comers.
The formula is working. Customer service is personal, gracious and natural in its diverse, dynamic, integrated Northern Liberties neighborhood. So it is clear why Chef McAndrews wants to keep things the same. But with the surge in popularity, Paesano’s is struggling to keep up with the volume. They need more space, and see a broader opportunity (including Center City) but are not in a hurry and want to make sure that any change is fully thought-through. No matter what the future holds, it is clear that today, Paesano’s has found their niche and has earned their spot at the table among Philadelphia’s best sandwiches.
152 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19123 (Google Map)