When considering his food, Keith Taylor, chef and founder of Zachary's BBQ Southern Comfort & Catering in Norristown, remembers two things:
One: “Zachary’s represents the American south. Both are connected to soul food, and that’s not black or white, but the food of your home.”
Two: “Zachary’s is 100% derivative of, and very connected to, my family.”
Zachary’s, which started primarily as a catering company in 2004, will celebrate in March their third year of having added their retail addition that offers take-out, as well as tables for customers eating their food there.
With a focus on barbecue, sandwiches, soups and southern side dishes, “Zachary’s plays homage to the soul food that everybody loves,” said Taylor.
“Philadelphia” magazine agreed, bestowing their ‘Best Barbecue’ on Zachary’s in 2012.
A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Cornell’s School of Hospitality and Management, Taylor has also worked for Disney and the University of Pennsylvania, now coming to rest in Norristown, where his successful catering business and retail space, which offers free parking, is located at 1709 Markley St.
Taylor talks about food spontaneously and organically, speaking in one breath about Korean Banchan appetizers, Polish dumplings and barbecue.
On a recent visit to Zachary’s, Taylor was excited to do a tasting of some of his more popular foods, which included, among others, North Carolina-style pulled pork, Cape Fear-style crab bisque, Louisiana-style seafood gumbo, and a Saint Louis-style brisket that had a lovely magenta-colored hickory smoke ring from a long smoking in Zachary’s kitchen.
“Our pulled pork is straight North Carolina, with the vinegar. That’s my grandmother,” he said.
The pork was rich but not too much so, with a hint of heat and vinegar tang. The gumbo was bright and deep yet somehow light, and sides of collards with smoked turkey and hoppin’ john, both side dishes from the south, were delicious and nourishing.
But, said Taylor, he wants people to come to Zachary’s not just for the food, but for the people who work at Zachary’s, who are always happy to see a guest.
“People travel very far to come here,” said Taylor.
He waved cheerfully to his customers waiting for their food and asked them where they were coming from. “I’m from Mont Clare,” said one man.
“I came from Bensalem, said another.
According to Taylor, only 25% of his business comes from Norristown.
Their customers are loyal, Taylor said, and he likes to give back. “That’s why we have Chefsoul Saturdays, that’s why we have $10 Tuesdays, that’s why we have the $6.95 Senior Special,” he added.
Chefsoul Saturdays, held on the last Saturday of every month, bring blues music, barbecue, beer brewed at the nearby Prism brewery and more to Zachary’s. According to Taylor, they change the theme every month. The next will be held on Feb. 22.
There are more ideas where that came from. Taylor wants to show locals that picking up dinner to take home does not always have to end with a pizza or McDonald’s. Mothers, fathers and families can stop over and order Zachary’s hand-made food that is overseen by a friendly, local CIA-trained chef to take home and enjoy.
“We have pizza night; why can’t it be barbecue night?” he asked.
Zachary’s can also ship to colleges to give students a break from dining room food and treat them to some good, healthy soul food.
At Zachary’s, though the menu may have a generous number of offerings, from four cheese baked macaroni to a crab cake sandwich, some guests may not make it through the whole menu, though they may be a many-times-over repeat customer.
“I always get the pulled pork sandwich, said Joe Cantrell, of Norristown, as he sat, waiting for his sandwich. “I never get anything else. It is just so good.”