Just up the corridor from Taylor Gourmet’s 14th Street location, another sandwich shop is wowing guests with its innovative ingredients and flavor combinations—but it’s not doing so entirely in a fast-casual format. G by Mike Isabella is a fast-casual-by-day, full-service-by-night Italian sandwich joint owned by Isabella, the former Top Chef star and renowned D.C. restaurateur.
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G is next door to Isabella’s popular Kapnos, a fine-dining Greek joint that spit-roasts whole animals; the chef wanted to better leverage those meats within a more casual environment and opted to run a sandwich concept from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and casual Italian restaurant from 6 to 10 p.m.
“For me, it’s thinking about what I would serve my guests in my full-service restaurants, and hitting all the notes on your palate: the crunchy, the salty, the bitter, the sweet, the tangy,” Isabella says on a break from managing the kitchen at Kapnos. “That’s how I think about food. So the same way I would think about an entrée or a dish is the same way I would think about a sandwich.”
That lends itself to some innovative menu options, from wood-roasted sandwiches like the Suckling Pig with broccolini, Provolone, and cherry pepper aioli, and the Spiced Baby Goat with harissa, lemon potatoes, and oregano, to fresh sandwiches like the Roasted Cauliflower with romesco, pickled vegetables, and paprika. There are also Italian classics like the Chicken Parm, the Meatball Sub, and the Italian Hero.
Isabella says he wanted a fast-casual restaurant within his portfolio so that he could put creative, high-quality foods in front of the masses with low overhead and fewer resources than what goes into a full-service location. That desire for high quality means no customization, a fast-casual trend he says doesn’t mesh well with the chef mentality. “For chefs, we like to control more because people who come into our restaurants eat our food,” he says. “So for me to design a concept where they’re going to make everything, it isn’t a really chef-driven concept. And I want it to be chef-driven.”
For now, G has two locations: the original 14th Street shop and a completely limited-service unit in Nationals Park, home of baseball’s Washington Nationals. Isabella doesn’t have grand visions of being a large national concept; rather, he says he’d be happy with 25 or so locations in the D.C. region, close enough for him to keep control. Still, when asked about his future with fast casual, Isabella’s face lights up, a wide smile suggesting future plans for additional fast-casual concepts.
“It’s fun, it’s easy, and after I did it, I was like, why didn’t I do this earlier?” he says. “I’m still working with the same products and same techniques, but offering a good product, and people come in and are so excited to eat a great sandwich and get a drink and leave spending under $20.”
Image Credit: Greg Powers