Prime Sub Taylor Gourmet fights depression the Philly way.

Bread Line: Mazza, left, and Patten source their loaves straight from Sarcone’s.
Charles Steck

The one absolute truth about D.C. is that every transplant who arrives here will, within a week, start bellyaching about some ethnic dish, some hometown specialty, some unbelievably orgasmic dining experience that can’t be replicated or done worth a damn in the District. It might be a French baguette, a slice of New York pizza, or an omakase like the one in Los Angeles where the chef serves the fattiest bluefin toro this side of Tokyo.

Casey Patten and David Mazza are two such transplants. They’re from the Philadelphia area, where they were raised on a steady diet of Italian hoagies made thick with the finest cured meats, sharp aged provolone, and a firm, crusty Sarcone’s roll. Shockingly, they couldn’t find sandwiches like that in D.C., not even at A. Litteri, that venerable Italian deli, which the guys like just fine but which doesn’t totally pass the Philly Ninth Street Italian Market sniff test.

The thing is, Patten and Mazza didn’t just sit around and bitch about the sorry state of the Italian hoagie in D.C. They built their own Italian deli, Taylor Gourmet on H Street NE, a neighborhood where, historically, the fried specialty was whiting, not chicken cutlets and cheese ravioli.

Taylor is not an Italian deli like the ones in Philly or even like Litteri, the creaky shop that’s been hiding among the wholesalers in the Capital City Market warehouse district since 1932. Litteri is more aligned with the 19th century than the 21st. It fears wasted space, its shelves packed so tight with product, you have to walk sidewalks, sand-crab-like, through the aisles so your elbows won’t knock anything off the shelves. Litteri is crusty and authoritarian, smelling of meats, dust, and little old men. It’s got enough dirt under its fingernails not to give a crap what you think.

Taylor, by contrast, wants to impress. Its interior design uses rough-hewn materials—wood planks, exposed brick, and metal—that speak of permanence and sturdiness, just the qualities you want from a deli. But aside from the brick, these materials are mostly packaged for form, not function. It’s durability as a fashion statement. The music pumped over the sound system is often lounge, which seems about right.

But then again, this is not the Great Depression (at least not yet), and there’s nothing wrong with form. Earlier generations, Italian and otherwise, suffered through all sorts of Spartan conditions so that their children and grandchildren could enjoy a little goddamn form. Function was for the unemployed. Truth to tell, I like the aesthetic vibe at Taylor. It’s clean and industrial cool. It wants you to linger and surf the Web. Litteri doesn’t care what you do—stay, go, drop dead in the olive oil section.

Taylor’s design says something about Mazza and Patten. It says they have taste, which is evident everywhere, from the shelves stocked with first-cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oils to the Claudio salami stuffed into the meat counter. Now consider the definition of “delicatessen” from no less an authority than Larousse Gastronomique: “A shop, or department in a store or supermarket, selling high-quality, luxury food and/or specialist products. The word, meaning delicacies, originated in Germany in the 18th century.”

Let me give you just one example of how hard Patten and Mazza worked to bring you quality products: When they couldn’t find a D.C. bread they liked, they took samples of their favorite rolls to local bakers to try to re-create them. “No one could come within 20 percent of the roll we wanted,” the 28-year-old Patten told me. So Patten and Mazza went begging to Sarcone’s, which initially played hard to get. The fifth-generation bakery apparently doesn’t sell rolls to just anyone who opens a deli. The owners had to prove their worth, and once they did, they also had to hire a dude to drive to Philly and pick up about 150 fresh rolls a day.

Sarcone’s plays a major role in the quality of Taylor’s sandwiches, which is a good thing, because the owners use these sesame-seed rolls for every sammie. I think they work best with Taylor’s greasier creations, like the expertly composed Church Street sandwich, a classic combo of sausage and peppers. The loaf absorbs just enough grease to soften its rougher edges, while the caramelized onions provide a touch of sweetness to balance the spicy sausage. The sandwich is practically architectural in its balance. Its flavors are pure Italy.

I found similar pleasures in the Callowhill Street (each sandwich is named after a Philly street), a meatball-loaded roll slathered with a garlicky but light-bodied house-made marinara sauce. The bread, with its absorbent crumb and sturdy crust, can more than stand its ground against those Taylor-made meatballs, which would rip apart a lesser loaf; the roll not only maintains its essential crustiness but it also helps throw a blanket on the fiery contents of this meaty sandwich.

The rolls complement the more recognizable Italian hoagies, as well, like the Kelly Drive (prosciutto, sopressata, sharp provolone) and the Passyunk Avenue (Genoa salami, capicola, pepper shooters), in which the bread has forceful and fatty ingredients to interact with. The loaves even work with Taylor’s line of succulent chicken cutlet sandwiches, perhaps because there’s a built-in advantage to the pairing: The thin breast meat is coated with seasoned, day-old Sarcone’s breadcrumbs. Broad Street is the way to go here; the broccoli rabe adds the bitterness you need to help cut through the oil, cheese, and bread.

My major complaint has to do with Taylor’s house-roasted turkey, which the owners decided to do on their own after searching in vain for a brand they liked. The breast meat itself, marinated for more than a day before hitting the oven, is fine in small doses, its bland flavors perfumed with just a hint of herbs. But when the kitchen places a solid wad of that turkey breast into, say, the Arch Street (which also includes roasted red peppers and sharp provolone), the sandwich takes on sub-Saharan qualities. The bread and meat combine for a strangely arid bite, despite the fact that the loaf comes stuffed with a salad bar’s worth of shredded and dressed lettuce.

If you ask me, the bird’s poor performance is only poetic. Turkey is just too New World for an Italian deli, even one that’s re-imagining this musty institution for people who like their coppa with a little lounge music.

Taylor Gourmet, 1116 H St. NE, (202) 684-7001.

Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to hungry@washingtoncitypaper.com. Or call (202) 332-2100, x 221.

Our Readers Say

Why bash Litteri's in a feeble attempt to hype-up the "coolness" of Taylor Gourmet? Litteri's and Taylor's are completely two different businesses. Typical weak reporting, all based on personal opinion and emotion!
Reporting based on personal opinion and emotion? I think that is the job description of a Food Critic/Columnist/Writer. The only other two things that are more personal and emotionally intense are Love and Money. The atmospheric presentation/experience of an eatery is half of the rating; taste being the rest of the story. Good job, Tim.
Looking at Ken's comment, I re-read this wondering where I had missed the diss of Litteri's. Instead I read a funny, respectful commentary that obviously digs Litteri's and is just contrasting it with the new kid in town. My conclusion: Ken's are typical weak reader comments, based either on illiteracy or having read two sentences rather than the whole piece.

If only commenters would actually take the time to READ the things they comment on. It would be so refreshing ...
I've eaten there every week for about 2 months and think you nailed it just right. Who's doing a better god damn sandwich in DC is my question? No one. Taylor's got them all beat!
Love Litteri's. Love Taylor.

The two are DEFINITELY not mutually exclusive. Plenty of room for both.

Taylor has been a welcome addition to H Street since it opened - and they're one of the few places in town to get a black cherry soda (a great throwback to my Jersey roots).

When they ran into some criticism from neighbors for a few opening hiccups, Casey and David actually LISTENED to the complaints and used them to improve the store. Each new development (delivery, meatballs, catering) has made Taylor even better.

Kind of a fan.
So you want me to spend $9 on an Italian sub when I can get TWICE as much in a Mangialardo G Man for HALF the price?

You know where to go.
It's not a sub, monkey. It's a hoagie. And that makes all the difference.
Fair enough. So where do I have to go to get a grinder?
yummy risotto balls!
the veggie subs are all lettuce and vinegar. don't waste your money on overpriced bread. here me taylor cooks? put something in the veggie sub besides lettuce already.
Wow, great descriptive review! Makes me want to go there and wander around, and get one of those sandwiches! Welcome to DC guys!
Got a Turkey w/Provolone hoagie today and it was just as I remembered if not better than the delicious Hoagies I used to eat on my way from school in NJ. The neighborhood is up and coming with not much to look at but no one pays you any mind.

I give props to the boys for opening their deli right in the thick of it.
Last Friday we e-mailed to have six subs delivered to The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. We recieved a phone call telling us our food was on the way and would be here at 12:30. Come 1:00PM still no food. I phoned back and was told it be a few more minutes. Come 1:30 I was told the same answer again. I phoned a third time and was told the delivery guy was close by. We never recieved our food or a phone call. I will never deal with this business again. Is this what is known as Philly Attitude?
Ate there tonight on the promise that FINALLY there would be a taste of home right here in DC.

The sandwiches were good but NOT great and certainly did not scream Philly. Hint: Never EVER put vinegar on a hoagie. All you need to bring out the flavor of the meats is straight up olive oil. Also, cut the fru fru drinks, use ATV rolls and then you are on your way
Best Hoagie in town...Haven't had one that taste so good since the
60's...and oh my the lemonade was AWESOME!!!

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