There are two plausible reasons a visitor to New Orleans might wind up at Sammy’s Food Service & Deli, a breakfast/lunch restaurant in a not-so-scenic, off-the-tourist-path neighborhood: 1) you’re an experienced food traveler who ferrets out the best local restaurants no matter how remote, or 2) you took a wrong turn. This locals’ spot rarely gets the attention it deserves…but wait, what’s that?
Oh yeah. There was that segment about Sammy’s on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-In and Dives with Guy Fieri. Sammy’s also grabbed top honors in two categories at the 2010 Po-Boy Preservation Festival (Best Roast Beef, Best Specialty Non-Seafood). In fact, on second thought, maybe too many people know about Sammy’s now…to the minor irritation of a local crowd that, until all of the publicity, only had to contend with itself in the long lines at the counter. Lately, it’s not uncommon to see a family of bead-wearing, post-Pat O’Brien’s out-of-towners hunkered around a table during Mardi Gras or any of the packed festival weekends in New Orleans.
Technically, Sammy’s is not a po-boy shop. It’s a counter service restaurant with a menu that includes solid diner fare, a justifiably famous two-eater burger, and daily Soul and Creole specials like red beans and rice, stewed chicken, and seafood stuffed shrimp.
To the untrained eye, the po-boy menu offers the standard New Orleans roll call. Ham, turkey, roast beef, hot sausage, seafood. But in this list, there are po-boys not only worth the trouble of getting to Sammy’s (then standing in line, then waiting for one in the flurry of women behind the counter to shout your lucky number), they rival the po-boys you’ve seen on every “best” list for the last five years.
Most hungry travelers insist on fried seafood po-boys when they come to New Orleans, and while Sammy’s are serviceable, the restaurant excels in a carnivorous compilation called the Ray Ray, the Po-Boy Fest award-winning stack of juicy, gargantuan fried chicken cutlets topped with thin-shaved, grilled ham and melted Swiss on a 16-inch torpedo of French bread. It is enormous and only needs a shot of hot sauce to make it hum.
Roast beef po-boys in New Orleans are hotly contested and analyzed. The more famous local variation is a dripping, gravy-soaked tangle of pot roast-style beef that melts through the French loaf and requires a bibbed, elbows-out, shirtsleeves up approach to eat. Sammy’s roast beef comes sliced and coated in enough garlicky gravy to get the point across without a trip to the dry cleaners. While Parkway Bakery & Tavern, Parasol’s, Tracey’s and Domilise’s fans duke it out over who serves the best roast beef, I’m eating this one.
The hot sausage po-boy is the sleeper hit of the menu. In deference to the deli’s previous life as a full-service butcher shop, the hot sausage patties, smoked sausages and Italian links on the menu are all house-made. The po-boy is layered with griddle-crisped hot sausage patties that are riddled with red pepper flakes and cast a glare from a sheen of spicy fat. For day-after healing powers, it offers the trifecta of grease, pork and heat—a recipe for the second wind you need to make it back to bed.
Despite the 15 minutes of fame, Sammy’s is still off of the mainstream radar. It’s not in the French Quarter. It’s not one of those dive-y “authentic” neighborhood restaurants that coasts on the fumes of its fame long after the food goes lame and expensive. Sammy’s is simply a restaurant that serves a couple of po-boys that are worth the detour from the well-worn po-boy path in New Orleans.
Off-the-beaten-path but worth the excursion, Sammy's Food Service & Deli serves up hearty sandwiches, po-boys and plate lunches that are a hit with locals and easy on the wallet.