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Cheap Eats

Arlington deli concocting its own history

The spicy Italian sub.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The spicy Italian sub.

Anthony’s East Side Deli only opened in April, but it feels like it’s been in the East Arlington neighborhood for a century. Locals tap on the display case, ordering cold cuts and cheeses (Boar’s Head is carried here), and inquiring, amid small talk, which fresh-made sides are best on that particular day.

But when a 30-something woman with a baby carrier asks about gluten-free options, the sepia-toned daydream takes on a very modern hue. Anthony’s recalls a bygone era in aesthetics only. The deli can meet the demands of today’s customers, thanks in part to the nearby gluten-free bakery Something Sweet Without Wheat. “I have gluten-free breads now served with gluten-free Boar’s Head cold cuts,” says Anthony Masci, who owns the deli with his wife, Denise. “That was a head-turner as far as, ‘Wow, we really hit the sweet spot for what people are looking for as far as gluten-free stuff.’ ”

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Anthony Masci made an effort to root his shop in the past, while keeping it current. “I did want to bring it back as far as I could, yet not scare away more of a future-type person,” he says. “I tried to give it that look of a throwback. Even my slicers and my deli case are of the older style but new.”

This is Masci’s second deli venture, following three decades in computer engineering. In 2008, he opened Maria’s Italian Cold Cuts in Somerville. Two years later, he sold the shop to an employee to seek a larger space, shortly before Maria’s burned down in a fire.

Seeing a void in Italian delis in East Arlington, Masci transformed the former Audio Video Plus at Massachusetts Avenue and Marathon Street into a sandwich shop (all takeout), Italian market, and catering business.

With fresh-cut meats, the sandwiches are mostly excellent, served on a choice of a seeded braided roll from Winter Hill Bakery in Somerville or a 10-inch sub roll from Piantedosi Baking Co. in Malden. Spicy Italian ($6.95), with hot capicola, hot soppressata, provolone, and mortadella, offers a true kick. Turkey Delicious ($7.50), an out-of-season Thanksgiving feast on bread, is still one of Anthony’s top sellers even in warm weather. “If I didn’t sell 20 of them today, I didn’t sell one,” Masci says as he slathers on cranberry sauce, while Denise prepares to add generous chunks of turkey breast and stuffing. “They go quick.”

Another popular sub, Spy Ponder ($7.95), is a twist on the Caprese ($6.55), which Masci says appealed to female customers but left men saying, “I need more substance.” So he added prosciutto to the traditional mix of tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil, and oil— a combination that works very well together — and named the sandwich for Arlington High School’s sports teams.

Two other sandwiches off the custom “Something Different” menu are not as consistent. Marauder ($7.99) has more than a generous helping of black pepper pastrami, which could be mistaken for roast beef, plenty of lean bacon, spicy mustard, and Swiss cheese, but fails to balance the flavors. Similarly, chicken cutlet BLT ($7.99) packs big cuts of breaded chicken and lots of bacon, but skimps on lettuce and tomato.

A more traditional sub, however, is one of the best. Steak and cheese with mushroom caps ($7.45) is juicy, meaty, and as delightfully soggy as a Philly
cheesesteak, but absolutely delicious. The Eastside salad ($7.99), mesclun greens with cranberries, walnuts, and gorgonzola, a salad that seems to be everywhere, is ornate but the combination is winning.

Anthony Masci at the slicer, preparing ingredients for sandwiches .

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Anthony Masci at the slicer, preparing ingredients for sandwiches.

Sides and other salads by the pint or pound get mixed reviews. Chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts ($7.29 a pound) is the most expensive, but well worth the price tag; potato salad ($2.99 a pound) is fresh tasting and not overboard with mayo; marinated mushrooms ($5.99 a pound) in balsamic are too tangy.

Masci offers calzones on his catering menu but can’t cook them to order due to health code restrictions. He plans to buy a warmer, which would allow him to add them to the regular menu. Until then, customers can place an order for individual calzones a day in advance (or get them for your office from Anthony’s catering menu).

The couple also hopes to expand soon into breakfast, with designs on a croissant of eggs, ham, bacon, and melted cheese. Masci says the shop’s early hours already support breakfast business.

While looking toward the future, Anthony’s East Side Deli has one foot in the past and one in the present. Luckily, both eras deliver great sandwiches.

Glenn Yoder can be reached at gyoder@globe.com.
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