If you want something done right, do it yourself. That's what Philadelphia natives Casey Patten and David Mazza realized after searching Washington for the perfect Italian hoagie. If they found the meat, the cheese wasn't right. And the bread? Let's not even talk about the bread.
At Taylor Gourmet, the pair's new Italian deli that opened this month on up-and-coming H Street NE, everything is just as it should be. The cured meats and cheeses are imported from Italy. The turkey is roasted in-house, and the marinara sauce is made each morning. The Italian bread, crusty on the outside, light and chewy on the inside, is delivered daily from Sarcone's, a fifth-generation Philadelphia bakery.
The menu looks bigger than it is. There are 13 hoagies and 11 chicken cutlet sandwiches, each named for a street in Philly. But most are various combinations of Taylor's staple ingredients. The 9th Street Italian ($6.90 for a six-inch, $8.90 for a 12-inch) is a classic: seeded bread topped with prosciutto, capicola, salami and provolone that has aged for 18 months. It's plenty filling but relies on the quality of the meats and cheeses, not the quantity of them, to make it good. We also liked the Benjamin Franklin Parkway ($6.70, $9), breaded cutlets topped with the house marinara and provolone. The chicken, coated in leftover hoagie crumbs, is juicy and flavorful. Ask for a side of marinara for dunking.
Taylor also offers salads, which are named for Philadelphia parks. Each includes greens tossed with vegetables, cheese and baby pasta called pastina, which makes it filling enough to be a meal. Try the Roosevelt Park ($7), an almost meaty mix of arugula, cremini mushrooms, parsley and Parmesan cheese.
Taylor is designed for takeout, but the ambiance entices you to stay. The walls are exposed brick with rough-hewn wood, reclaimed from delivery pallets, tacked on top. The market in back is great for browsing. There are about a dozen olive oils and vinegars, plus fresh and dried pastas, sauces, gelato and 30 wines priced under $30. If you can't get there or don't want to stand in what sometimes are long lines, Taylor delivers almost anywhere in the District for a $2 surcharge.
-- Jane Black (Nov. 23, 2008)