The phone at Paisano's pizza and sub shop rings incessantly from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. While a stream of carryout customers in starch-white shirts, loosened ties and business skirts files through the doors, four delivery boys scramble to keep up with the orders flooding in from the various Fair Lakes office parks.
Anthony Qreitem, the co-owner of Paisano's, is monitoring the deliveries as his sister Cathy takes telephone orders, furiously scribbling requests for steak and cheese, tuna salad sub, large pie with pepperoni, chicken shawarma, souvlaki, fettuccine Alfredo and Mediterranean pizza.
Tucked in the center of a 10-store strip mall on the west fringe of Fairfax, Paisano's offers a refreshing change of pace in an area where many food establishments are part of a national chain.
The two siblings spent their teenage years working in the family business: Anthony in the three Black Orchid restaurants owned by his father, Tony; Cathy in her uncle George's pizza place. When Anthony Qreitem finished at Lake Braddock High School in 1991, he graciously declined his father's urgings to take over the Black Orchid and created his own business instead.
Paisano's, loosely translated from Italian, means "countryman's." The diverse menu includes 10 Italian dinners, nine salad entrees, eight "gourmet" pizzas, plus a variety of calzones and strombolis. Prices range from $3.25 for a Caesar salad to $15.95 for a large pizza with the works.
Influenced by a Lebanese father, an Italian mother and years of working with various chefs, Qreitem developed Mediterranean pizza, chicken shawarma, Greek pizza and a "Fair Lakes Special" sub with soppressata, mortadella and provolone. His Mediterranean pizza is an original creation and not necessarily Mediterranean, he admits, but it is one of his specialties and a real treat. The crust is hand-tossed and chewy beneath the cheese but crispy and golden brown at the back of the wedge. The chicken is marinated for three days in a seasoned garlic butter so its taste stands out. Greek pizza ($10.95 for 12-inch, $13.95 for 16-inch) is "basically a gyro on a pizza," Qreitem said, with gyro meat, feta cheese, black olives, tomato and onion. For the same prices, Santa Fe pizza has cheddar cheese and chicken. All the pizzas thrive on Paisano's crust, and none are so gourmet that they are trying to be health food. This is the countryman's pizza.
Chicken shawarma ($4.65, $7.25 with french fries and salad), the only truly Arabic dish, according to Qreitem, is a savory blend of textures and temperatures for a summer lunch. Chunks of chicken (again marinated, but differently from that on the Mediterranean pizza) are engulfed in lettuce, tomato, onion and a cool yogurt sauce and wrapped in a spongy pita.
Paisano's narrow confines don't leave much room for seating, so the business is primarily carryout and delivery orders. A lull begins around 2 p.m. that allows Anthony Qreitem to quench his thirst, his sister to move away from the phone. Walk-up customers get all the attention. But come 5 p.m., multiple phone lines are lit again as suburban families call in their orders.
Hermosa chicken ($8.75) is one of the most popular dinners: three large, flat, slightly blackened breasts with faintly lemony, nonthreatening flavor on a large bed of plain spaghetti. It's enough to serve two and you'll probably need the two servings of marinara sauce that comes on the side.
The strombolis are listed as either 8-inch ($4.95) or 12-inch ($6.95), but the measurements are a gross understatement. The "medium" can serve two and the "large" could probably satisfy a battalion.
Qreitem began working at the Black Orchid at age 14 as a dishwasher and gradually moved on to busboy, waiter, cook, host and even manager by age 20.
"If I'd never worked for my father I could never do [Paisano's]," Qreitem said.
Cathy Qreitem attended college and although she has not yet graduated, she still intends to earn an accounting degree, so Anthony refers to her as "the brains." She said sharing ownership has its advantages.
"I'm happy sitting in the back room doing all the paperwork and [Anthony] would rather not touch that stuff," she said. "He loves interacting with the customers and I'm not so much of a people person, so it works out. The good thing about having a partner is that you always have somebody to watch your back."
Paisano's, 12715 Shops Lane, Fairfax, Va. 22033 (In the Shops at Fair Lakes); call 703-266-1400, FAX 703-802-5736. Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.