Taylor Charles Steak & Ice
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A cheesesteak seems like an uncomplicated sandwich: a roll filled with griddled beef and cheese. Wit grilled onions or wit-out. But that simplicity makes the Philly favorite difficult to perfect. There’s little room for error.
The stakes are even higher when you’ve already found success as the hoagie kings of the District.
Taylor Gourmet owners and Philadelphia natives Casey Patten, 32, and David Mazza, 35, knew they had to get it absolutely right when they opened Taylor Charles Steak & Ice in the Atlas District in mid-December.
“There’s a fear factor when you take on something iconic and regional,” says Patten. “Everyone has an opinion on it.”
As reported in these pages, the duo took multiple trips back to their hometown to research, tried dozens of provolone cheeses and had long discussions about the perfect roll, which they ultimately sourced from Gold Crust Baking in Landover. They even developed their own house-made whiz, a sauce that tastes a little like aged white cheddar mixed with provolone and has the consistency of runny nacho cheese.
All the effort was worth it. The griddled-to-order rib-eye cheesesteak ($7.90) is jam-packed with flavor. (You can substitute chicken breast or portobello mushrooms for your protein at the same price.) The jus, grease and cheese soak into the bread, which is built to handle the task.
Those grilled onions (make sure to request a few extra), plus the cherry peppers, pickles and hot sauce, are complementary. Some other add-ons, such as pizza sauce and bacon, defy tradition and will cost you an extra buck.
I approached the Specialty Cheesesteaks ($8.90) with reservations but thoroughly enjoyed one filled with pepperoni, rib-eye and house-made whiz. All of the sandwiches are considerately wrapped in aluminum foil and soak-proof paper to ensure they don’t make a mess until you bite into them.
Sides were a letdown. Fried, truffled cheesesteak spring rolls ($4.90) in wonton wrappers are salty up front, with a black pepper finish but nary a taste of truffle. Frozen fries ($2.90) poured straight from the box into the fryer are merely serviceable. Patten chose them for their durability, but one still wishes for the fresh, skin-on, hand-cut kind instead -- even if they might wilt in transit.
The soda fountain is stocked with Penn Pop in creamy birch, sarsaparilla and mandarin cream flavors ($1.90). If you want to feel like a kid again, choose grape or cherry Kool-Aid ($1.90). Dessert treats include a selection of house-made Italian water ices ($1.90 to $3.40) in lemon and other flavors that rotate; frozen custard ($2.90 to $3.90); and ice cream sandwiches ($2.40).
The space has a vibrant, lighthearted feel. Swooping, swirling graffiti cover the ceiling and one wall. Streetlights hang over the red mesh metal picnic tables and stools in the back, and the eatery’s joker-hat logo is ubiquitous.
“Everyone back in Philadelphia is the King of Steaks, the Prince of Steaks, the Ace of Steaks,” explains Patten. “We’re the two idiot jesters.”