When Taylor Gourmet opened the first of its three Washington-area stores in November 2008, the advertising pitch was simple: The deli would sell Philadelphia-style sandwiches, named after Philadelphia streets, sandwiched between Philadelphia bread.
They meant it literally: Every morning, the deli’s owners explained, they would schlep rolls all the way down from Sarcone’s, a small neighborhood bakery in historically Italian South Philadelphia.
With deli meats from Italy, robust provolones, and a mix between traditional house-made fillings and modern sandwich-making twists, Taylor became a hit. Washingtonian penned a love letter to its crusty rolls and their fresh-baked aroma. The Washington Post called Taylor Gourmet a local favorite. Washington City Paper added it to a “50 Best Restaurants” list. Nearly every piece of hype mentioned the out-of-town rolls.
So when the time came to put together a story about the growing number of D.C.-area establishments that brag about bringing in bread baked in some distant oven, Taylor owner Casey Patten seemed like a natural person to call.
“The roll is like no other,” he told me. Sarcone’s deck ovens create a significant bottom crust, he said, offering a workout for your jaw—and a perfect home for dense, wet fillings like Patten’s saucy chicken cutlets or homemade meatballs drenched in marinara. Such conditions could reduce other rolls to a sopping, soggy mess.
During my first interview with Patten, he described in detail the bread transportation arrangements. According to Patten, 500 to 1,000 rolls make the trip down Interstate 95 every day. And when I asked about future expansion plans, he told me that if his arrangement with Sarcone’s ever fell through, he had a back-up Philadelphia bread supplier.
During a follow-up interview, Patten’s story changed significantly. I had pressed him for a ride on the bread-delivery van, to no avail. After several requests, Patten made a surprising admission: Taylor had stopped using Sarcone’s a few weeks earlier. He said capacity concerns forced him to switch to a Washington-area bakery as his business expanded. He declined to name his new supplier.
I followed up with a call to Louis Sarcone Jr., a fourth-generation baker and vice president of the bakery. He confirmed Taylor no longer uses his bread. He told me they actually stopped purchasing the rolls back in September. According to Sarcone, Patten cited transportation costs, tolls, and winter snowstorms in their decision to try another bakery. “They told me they’d try it out and if it didn’t work they’d come back.” He told me, adding, “They never did.”
Taylor never updated its website, either: As this story went to print, the site still claimed they used Sarcone’s rolls.
Among the people who never noticed: me. And I’m a food critic. I’ve eaten a boatload of Taylor’s subs over the last couple years. If I perceived a subtle difference in the crustiness of the rolls, it was only after I found out about the switch—hardly a double-blind taste test.
But the more interesting question was: Why did I care?
Sure, no one likes to be hoodwinked. But it’s not as if the deli had swapped in, say, USDA Select in place of Wagyu beef. In theory, the same ingredients combined in Washington could create the same loaf of bread. And yet Taylor, along with several other newcomers to the local dining scene, was pushing authenticity rather than simple taste when it bragged of sourcing its rolls a few hours to the north—a play on comfort, emotion and food memories.
It’s an appeal that seems to be working—at the cash register, if not in Taylor’s hired ovens.
Locavorism may sell books, but in D.C., long distances sell bread. The loaves with the longest journey from bakery to plate are probably the ones at Locolat Café, on Florida Avenue just north of U Street NW. The café sells exotic chocolates, savory waffles, and tiny, crusty French baguettes.
“French,” in this case, is not a redundancy: The loaves ship from the baking powerhouse Le Nôtre in France. Par-baked demi-loaves arrive frozen in boxes of 60 from a local distributor after a flight across the Atlantic.
Most of the loaves don’t even get finished in a stateside oven. Instead, the staff slices them lengthwise and adds meats, vegetables, and cheeses. The baguettes finish cooking on a sandwich press; a process that infuses the bread with the flavors of its fillings to create a compelling panini.
Owner Geert Piferoen claims he orders his baguettes all the way from France not just for the superior quality, but also for the price. According to Piferoen, nothing in the area comes close at a similar cost.
If it’s truly finance that drives his decision, Piferoen isn’t passing the savings along. A thin baguette just a few inches long costs $2.49. The loaves are so small it would take more than four at a cost of $10 to come close to the volume of the full sized baguettes offered at Whole Foods. The comparison is pointless, however; the loaves have very little in common other than shape.