G Sandwich Shop, which debuted on 14th Street to much fanfare in July, is not just any sandwich shop; it’s Mike Isabella’s sandwich shop. Nary an article trumpeting Italian-inspired spot’s opening — and there were many — failed to mention the former Top Chef contestant’s name in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. Visit the website and you are commanded by a prominent sidebar graphic to “Buy Mike’s Book.” G’s Twitter handle is @GbyMikeIsabella. A seemingly tireless self-promoter, the dude is the Tyler Perry of D.C. chefs.
Fortunately for Isabella — and, more importantly, for me — the hype in this case is well justified. The menu at G is chocked full of tantalizing, Italian-inspired sandwiches ranging from the classic Chicken Parm to the more avante garde Spiced Baby Goat (an early crowd favorite). The beyond excellent Spicy Mushroom Panino, one of two meat-free options, features a mix of rough-chopped sautéed mushrooms paired with a generous ration of oozing Tallegio cheese, zesty arugula pesto and a powerful cherry pepper relish.
Very likely because of their passing textural similarity to animal proteins, mushrooms are a main component in numerous vegetarian-friendly sandwiches. Where many of these preparations go wrong is in their attempt to use the earthy fungus as a like-for-like meat stand-in. Mushrooms have a unique flavor and texture that should be highlighted and celebrated, not lazily shoehorned into a burger or cheesesteak knockoff.
What the Spicy Mushroom Panino proves is that all the bland mushroom sandwiches we’ve ever eaten needed only a little spice to play the foil. The mushrooms are tender but not mushy; the pressed ciabatta is satisfyingly airy and pressed to a crisp. Critically, the pesto and hot pepper offset the mushrooms’ typical woodiness with a much appreciated kick. The end product is a rare thing indeed: a meatless sandwich that this devout omnivore was still jonesing for days later.
It’s unlikely anyone would walk through the door of G Sandwich Shop unaware of who is behind the operation, but if it’s Isabella’s name that gets you there for the first time, it’s the sandwiches that will keep you coming back. Mushrooms are among an ever-growing list of now favorite foods that I flatly refused to eat at earlier points in my life, and it’s dishes like the Spicy Mushroom Panino that are to thank.