taylor-signWhen we took our first look at Taylor, back when they were in the final stages of getting ready to open, it was already pretty clear that the new gourmet deli and market was going to be a hit.  Between their commitment to authenticity and the lack of nearby competitors, however, Taylor has gotten off to an even better start than owners David Mazza and Casey Patten had hoped.

But how is the food, really?  Do they deliver on the promise of Philadelphia style and top-shelf ingredients, or are they benefiting from a relatively low bar when it comes to food offerings on H Street?

9th-streetNot to worry – Taylor comes through with flying colors (red, white and green, of course).  The 9th Street, their version of the classic Italian sub, packs in the flavor without overloading the Sarcone’s roll.  Their arancini, known here as “Rocky’s Risotto Balls,” are crisp and gooey at the same.  Even their salad offerings – so often relegated to afterthough status – rise to the occasion.  I may be a sucker for a good sandwich (and therefore an easy sell), but this place is earning its fan base.

Some more mouth-watering food photos and descriptions after the jump.

taylor-interiorWalking in the front door of Taylor, you’re almost always greeted by several groups of people sitting and enjoying their sandwiches just inside the door.  There are only 12 seats here in the front, but turnover is high.  Straight ahead is the rolled steel counter, where you grab an order form and mark off your selections before handing it over to David Mazza, who runs the orders back to the kitchen.

Looking at the big menu board for the first time, it’s easy to get a little overwhelmed.  There are almost 30 sandwich options, each one named after a street in Philadelphia.  The drawback to this setup?  Names give no clue as to what the sandwiches contain, so you’re forced to read through each description to figure out the ingredients.  Thankfully, most of the hoagie options are combinations of prosciutto, roasted turkey, and/or herb roasted ham with provolone or mozzarella and toppings like roasted red peppers and pesto spread.

Despite the heavy Philadelphia influence, Taylor resists the siren song of cheesesteaks, focusing instead on that mainstay of Italian delis, the chicken cutlet sandwich.  They offer them grilled or breaded and pan-fried, and toppings range from the classic provolone and marinara (the Ben Franklin Parkway, of course) to the fancy-pants pesto, arugula and brie (the Island Avenue).  Though I have yet to try the chicken in a sandwich, I can attest to the fact that it is well-seasoned with garlic, herbs, salt and pepper, as I’ve added the chicken to a salad I tried recently.

img_6188There may only be four salads on this menu, but Taylor has you well-covered if you’re not in the mood for a sandwich.  Each of the four salads starts with arugula or mixed greens and then adds in a combination of flavorful items like sundried tomatoes or roasted garlic and cheese.  The tasty grilled chicken can be added to any of them for an additional $1.50, turning them into hearty meals.  But what gives these salads a unique touch is the addition of pastina, little nubs of pasta that add some body (and some carbs).  In my Love Park, they were cooked until just al dente – not an easy feat for such small pieces of pasta.

As if the sandwiches and salads weren’t enough food, Taylor has several fried starters you can add to your meal.  If you’ve never had them before, convince a friend (or three) to share an order of the risotto balls.  Casey makes them himself, rolling morsels of mozarella in risotto and then breading them.  An order gives you five of these crispy, golden treats and a cup of marinara sauce (also homemade, with a nice spicy taste) for dipping, all for $4.50.

img_5865But let’s be honest: we’re all really here for the sandwiches.  These guys favor quality over quantity, so don’t expect to see a sloppy pile of meat when you unwrap your butcher’s paper and check out your sandwich.  They slice their meats to order, preventing them from drying out and allowing them to use ingredients like quality prosciutto and turkey breast that is roasted in house.  A few slices of these flavorful meats is plenty, especially when paired with other big tastes like roasted peppers and a pesto that has just the right blend of basil, garlic and parmesan.  The much-hyped Sarcone’s bread is a terrific delivery system – thick and crusty, but not dense or dry.  Lettuce, tomato and onions are standard (though you can request they omit any or all of them when you fill out your order.  Hot peppers (‘hots’) are available upon request, and sandwiches are topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a few shakes of Italian seasoning.  Each time I try a new sandwich, I’m impressed by the way they’ve worked to balance the flavors and textures of the ingredients.  These guys are really taking sandwich making to the next level.

Looking for mayo?  You’ll have to look elsewhere.  They simply don’t offer it at Taylor.  I’ve seen more than one person walk out of the shop after learning that the guys don’t have any mayonnaise in the store at all, nor do they plan to bring any in.  Casey and David claim it’s a matter of authenticity (though other Philly transplants swear that almost every deli in Philadelphia has mayo on hand, even if they discourage its use).  Will this kind of intransigent approach to the issue cost them some customers?  It already has.  But I personally applaud them for sticking to their guns.

To wash everything down, Taylor offers Boylan’s fountain sodas in flavors like creme and black cherry that are definitely favorites in my Jersey Italian family.  And although there may be no such thing as a healthy soda, Boylan’s is sweetened with pure cane sugar, allowing those of us who try to limit our intake of high fructose corn syrup to enjoy it without feeling quite as guilty.

As others have mentioned elsewhere, delivery is available for a $2 charge, and their delivery area is impressively large.   They have also introduced a catering option: Any 3 sandwiches from the menu on a platter sized to feed 8-10, 12-14, 18-20, or 22-25.  Prices for the platters start at $64.99 and go up to $134.99.

Taylor has had a few kinks to work out, most notably the long waits experienced by early patrons and a few hiccups in service stemming from the fact that they rely on bread from Sarcone’s in Philadelphia (one late or missed delivery can throw off an entire day’s service).  But they’ve handled them well and they have been very responsive to the local community, both in person and on local blogs like Frozen Tropics.

At this point, I have yet to taste something Taylor that hasn’t impressed me.  Even the salad, which I expected to be passable at best, had big flavors and was really satisfying.  The sandwiches are borderline addictive.  I’ll be honest: I was ready to throw my support behind Taylor out of a desire to encourage new places as they open here on H Street.  Thankfully, my experiences to date would have made me a fan even if I was coming from across town to check it out.  This isn’t “a great new place on H Street” – it’s just a great new place.

Taylor Gourmet
1116 H Street, NE
Opening November 2008

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