And next, in our Meals on Reels series is a scene from Napoleon Dynamite, a movie with many fascinating characters. But, to me, one of them really steals the show: Uncle Rico. Played by John Gries (who also, by the way, played Roger Linus in one our of favorite shows, “Lost”), Rico is simultaneous villain and hero, evoking sentiments of pity, humor and disgust. All of Rico’s scenes are brilliantly hilarious.
Of particular and relevant hilarity (this is a food blog), is the scene in which Rico grabs Kip’s steak, with his bare hands, and hurls it at the cycling duo of Napoleon and Pedro, smacking the former right in his grill and knocking off his glasses, which is followed by Rico’s how-you-like-me-now type celebration, and Kip’s “that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
And speaking of steak, the fam and I were recently at Sammy’s Ye Old Cider Mill, in Mendham NJ. In terms of Jersey steakhouses, this is really my favorite option, despite the influx of quality, chain operated steakhouses popping up in the surrounding area such as Ruth’s Chris and Roots. Those other joints just don’t compare to the intangible qualities that Sammy’s brings to the table. (But if it’s suits, unoriginality, and cheesy, wall mounted, gold plated Ronald Reagan quotes you desire, it’s best to stick the latter mentioned joints).
Let me first qualify this review with a slight bias: My family and I have been coming to Sammy’s since I could walk (and perhaps maybe even before then). So there is undoubtedly a nostalgic benefit that I receive from Sammy’s that others may not.
But nostalgic bias aside, this place has so much character. Sammy’s offers a unique dining experience: you order right when you walk in the door. When your order is placed, you wait downstairs at their bar, with old video games (such as Pac Man, Centepede, and Pinball) until a holler from the bartender, who might as well be Coach from Cheers, alerts you that your meal is ready.
After games, drinking and mingling, it’s up to the old, never-modernized dining hall you go, complete with dull green, landscape painted walls from decades ago – which was done as payment from a former patron who could not pay his restaurant tab.
At your table awaiting you is the greatest red wine vinegar salad I’ve ever tasted. With iceburg lettuce and chopped onions, this “salad” probably holds zero nutritional value, but who cares? If you’re calorie counting, you’re not in the right restaurant. And you’re pissing me off.
The fam follows this up with a Sammy’s staple: The Vodka Pasta (for 4, in this case).
I’ve sampled vodka sauce from a good amount of places. There is nothing, nowhere, nada that compares to Sammy’s Vodka Pasta. If I were receiving the electric chair tomorrow? This would be my final meal. It’s cheesy, salty, spicy (ahem!), and creamy. It has bits of fresh tomatoes in it and rocks your world with every mouthful. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on each helping, and you’ve just put the finishing touches on an absolute masterpiece.
For an entree, I order the Surf (Lobster) and Turf (the strip), which thankfully comes with a bib. I’m a slob as it is. At Sammy’s, I’ve been known to take out cats two tables over with some errant lobster fluid.
The Strip (the above picture is actually the box’s filet) is lean, with some tastier streaks of marble towards the bone. It is cooked as asked (medium rare) and perfectly salted, juicy, and tender. The Lobster is meaty, sweet and substantial. It doesn’t fall apart or get stuck in portions of the shell when I’m tearing into it. No digging into the dead lobster crevasses to uncover left behind chunks of meat; it all slides out as one piece.
Elana orders the shrimp scampi. If I somehow survived that initial go around within the electric chair, and was given a second meal to ingest before my apparent death, I might go with the scampi. Elana is generous enough to share some of hers, so I can be reminded of the greatness that is Scampi a la Sammy: jumbo, breaded shrimp bathing in a thick, potent, lemon garlic butter sauce. The sauce alone can be eaten like soup, it’s so outrageously tasty.
All of this comes with Sammy’s signature fries, which are crispy and brown but also quite moist and flavorful. Sea salt is sprinkled about. Much like the rest of the meal, steer clear of the fries should you be monitoring your cholesterol. So. Damn. Good.
Marmo and Elana save room for some of Sammy’s satisfying desserts.
While I’m moaning and clutching my stomach from overeating for the 163,403rd time in my career, Elana checks out the bathrooms, which as she puts it, “like the dining room in that they are similarly outdated, but charming. The tiled floor is left-over retro-chic, and there are thankfully large mirrors. The only element that has always unnerved me is the western-saloon style doors to the stalls. I always feel kind of exposed when I’m behind them.”
A former speakeasy, there still is no sign out front and nothing about the place, not even the video games, signify an update beyond the 1980’s. But its food, feel and experience make a timeless impression. I never get tired of this place.
Overall Experience: Animal House