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Philly-style sandwiches top tradition with imagination

At Paesano’s, beef brisket, horse-radish mayo, sharp provolone, and a fried egg make up the owner’s signature sub.

CHRIS MALLOY FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

At Paesano’s, beef brisket, horse-radish mayo, sharp provolone, and a fried egg make up the owner’s signature sub.

Chris Malloy for The Boston Globe

Chef and owner of Paesano’s Peter McAndrews.

PHILADELPHIA — Peter McAndrews often has scraps of lasagna left over at the end of dinner service at his Northern Liberties trattoria, Modo Mio. What, he wondered, should he do with these odd pieces that didn’t make it from pan to plate?

He soon decided. “That’s what I’m having for lunch,” he says. “I’ll take the lasagna, put it into a roll, and eat it.” But that wasn’t all he planned to do. He started to deep-fry the lasagna and to crown it with a fried egg, sharp provolone, and smoked mozzarella. The “Bolognese” is now at the Italian Market location of Paesano’s, McAndrews’s sandwich shop.

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Philadelphia is a sandwich town where the sandwiches don’t change. Roast pork, roast beef, cheese steaks, Italian hoagies, and other staples have been done the same way at many shops for generations. McAndrews is turning those traditions on their head. Many popular Philly sandwiches have Italian origins. That makes McAndrews, 41,who has cooked in Molise and other regions of Italy, the right man for riffing on tradition.

He opened the first Paesano’s in 2008, across the street from Modo Mio. Not long after, McAndrews opened a second, in the Italian Market, the nexus of Philly’s sandwich culture. Another pair of Paesano’s just fired up their fryers at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles. Think of the menus as Philly-style with Italian inspiration, or more specifically, whatever nifty creations McAndrews can dream up. Offerings range from the traditional (roast pork made with suckling pig or sausage and peppers) to wildly original (crisp-fried chicken livers with orange marmalade or minty lamb sausage with cherry mostarda, a condiment of sun-dried cherries candied in mustardy syrup).

For seating, the original Paesano’s has six stools at a counter that divides the eating area from the open kitchen. The joint has the feel of a studio apartment. Cooks chat with diners about the listings on the chalkboard menu and, when the sandwiches come, how nicely that roast beef hits the spot. This is the “Paesano,” a sandwich that is part-Italian-American, part-Philly, part-McAndrews, with paper-thin slices of slow-cooked beef brisket dripping on a chewy roll with horseradish mayo, sugar-cured roasted tomatoes, peperoncini, provolone, and fried egg. It’s not a cheesesteak, but it’s something like one, one that speaks roast beef and brings bombastic flavors and a parade of soft textures.

“For every sandwich,” McAndrews says, “I try to have a yin for a yang, a hot for a sweet, a salty for a sweet.” That need for range and balance is evident across the menu. It’s what makes a Paesano’s sandwich memorable.

Chris Malloy for The Boston Globe

Panelle, the Sicilian chickpea fritters, are wrapped in lavash flatbread.

For example, the “Diavlo” pits spicy chicken against bitter broccoli rabe, salty provolone against sugar-cured tomatoes. Lavash flatbread makes a delicate wrapping for presenting panelle, the Sicilian chickpea fritters McAndrews tops with “Godzuki,” a tzatziki-like sauce of his creation. Then there’s the “Gustaio,” the most outlandish sandwich, a toasted, house-made lamb sausage swaddled in funk (gorgonzola), sweet-and-sour (cherry mostarda), mint, fennel, feta, and arugula.

McAndrews does playful a take on the Texas Tommy, a bacon-wrapped hotdog covered with chili. He swaps in a link of spicy smoked beef, wraps it in sopressata, adds long hot peppers and provolone, and, the gut-busting kicker, ladles on Bolognese sauce. For $6, you can’t do much better than a “Tuscan Tony.”

Part of the reason Paesano’s does so well is the staff. “A lot of sandwich shops have an $8-an-hour counter girl who’s pretty but can’t make sausage,” McAndrews says. “Here, we have a lot of chefs who have taken hiatuses from working in the kitchen.”

Why would they do that? “Paesano” means countryman or friend, and that’s what cooks and diners are in this shop. Plus, cooks need only look over the counter to witness the joy their work creates.

“When you make somebody a sandwich, you can see on their face whether they like it or not,” McAndrews says. “That’s satisfying.”

PAESANO’S  152 West Girard Ave., Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, 267-886-9556

In the Italian Market, 1017 South 9th St., Philadelphia, 215-440-0371

At Lincoln Financial Field,

1 Lincoln Financial Field Way, Philadelphia, or go to
www.paesanosphillystyle.com.

Chris Malloy can be reached at chrisamalloy@gmail.com.
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