The back kitchen at Taylor Gourmet on Pennsylvania Avenue NW is in the middle of being reorganized on a mid-March afternoon. But amidst the mayhem, co-founder and head hoagie handicrafter Casey Patten has found a clean table for his materials. A tray is filled with sandwich components: a tangle of sprouts, sliced tomatoes, half an avocado, rounds of red onions, fresh roasted turkey, black bean puree, and tomato vinaigrette. He’s building a new hoagie that will eventually be named “Ridge” for the spring menu, which debuted in early April at Taylor Gourmet’s 10 area locations.
Four times a year, Patten creates up to half a dozen seasonal hoagies: one each containing chicken cutlet, pork, turkey, a vegetable, and chicken salad. (Sometimes there’s a beef option, too.) Each sandwich might go through up to a dozen iterations before a final recipe is set. Another 20 ideas never make it out of the test kitchen. A recent pork sandwich with black bean puree and tomatillo salsa was deemed to be “wet on wet on wet,” for example, and didn’t make the cut.
All the hoagies include several key components. “It has to have a spread that goes on the bread and adheres to the protein,” explains Patten. “There has to be protein or vegetable, a sauce of some sort that typically has to punch the spread back, crunch of some sort, and then the accouterments that go with it.”
Inspiration for new creations happens anytime, anywhere. “A lot of the time we start with, ‘What have we eaten recently? What’s fucking cool?’” says Patten, who scrawls thoughts into a notebook, saves menus from his travels, and is constantly typing ideas into his iPhone while he’s dining out.
Then he heads back into his makeshift lab for a month of development, which he sandwiches between “lease negotiations, kitchen layouts, and all the other things we have to do here to be successful,” he says.
After a hoagie is finalized, Patten rounds up staffers for a tasting session. Often, they will make suggestions about how to make the hoagie sturdier or quicker to assemble. Then it’s a matter of scaling up the recipes so the components can be mass-prepared from scratch daily at each location and training the staff. “When we had two stores, doing something new was easy,” Patten says. “I used to be shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone all day. Now it’s teach, train, coach, coach, coach, and retrain to get the pieces down.”
Though his creations sometimes have haute or trendy overtones—the winter menu featured a riff on a Vietnamese banh mi with fried Brussels sprouts and a spicy bang bang sauce, while the cheesesteak got a gourmet boost from white truffle oil and brie—many of them are simpler fare. This includes the turkey sandwich he’s put together today, which tastes appropriately light and fresh for the spring season, and mildly Mexican thanks to the cilantro and jalapeños in the black bean puree.
At the end of the day, Patten has a modest vision for Taylor Gourmet. “We don’t want to be looked at as these culinary visionaries of sandwiches,” he says. “We just want to make kick-ass hoagies.”
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Photos by Darrow Montgomery