By Dori Molozanov
McAndrews began cooking at an early age and by his teens, he knew the restaurant business was for him. He studied at the Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Piedmont, Italy, and - notwithstanding his Irish heritage - has made his mark on the area's Italian food scene.
In the past six years, McAndrews has opened Modo Mio, Monsu, Paesano’s and Popolino in Philadelphia and La Porta in Media. After his children were diagnosed with Celiac Disease, McAndrews began incorporating gluten-free options into the menus at his trattoria-style restaurants. “Until they were diagnosed, I had no idea how hard it was to find good gluten-free options,” he explains. “It’s important to me that everyone be able to experience the cuisine at my restaurants.”
The idea of gluten-free Italian food may raise some eyebrows to the uninitiated but, explains McAndrews, “the Mediterranean diet is very vegetable forward and lends itself well to gluten-free dining.” McAndrews says because his menu is authentic, it can be tailored to accommodate a special diet. Polenta and risotto, staples of Italian cuisine, are naturally gluten free. When substituting pasta, McAndrews says he prefers corn, as opposed to rice, because of the taste and texture. And his gluten-free pizza, available at his newest restaurant La Porta, is his kids’ favorite.
Natives and tourists hankering for a real Philly trademark need look no further than Paesano’s sandwich shops in Northern Liberties and on 9th Street at the Italian Market. Not only did McAndrews' "Paesano" - made with beef brisket, horseradish mayo, roasted tomato, pepperoncino, sharp Provolone, and a fried egg - edge out Bobby Flay's version in a Food Network “Throwdown!” he also offers the closest thing to a gluten-free cheesesteak that there is in town. “Folks are very excited to be able to have a Philly favorite [that's] gluten free,” says a proud McAndrews.