Everything is ok in East Hampton as long as the neon sign is on at Sam’s.
When you first walk in the door of Newtown Lane’s oldest restaurant, the first thing you notice is how gosh-darn friendly everyone is. There were five in our party on our most recent visit, which must be a headache for any restaurant, but the staff at Sam’s whipped out a tiny table and chair to set up our booth near the bar like it was our own parents’ living room and we were just a wayward group of kids who’d just come home after a few months’ trials out in the big new world.
Which, I guess, we were.
The food at Sam’s is just darn great, but that’s not the first thing I want to talk about. The first thing I want to talk about is what East Hampton was and what it is and why it’s so important that Sam’s is here.
There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that if you went downtown in East Hampton you could hop on line at Dreesen’s for a donut and a roast beef sandwich. You could listen in to banter on the streets about the junior lifeguard crew or what’s doing at LTV. Everyone was friendly and everyone felt like East Hampton was their home and it made you just happy to be there.
You could go browse the record stacks over at Long Island Sound, and then head upstairs at BookHampton to curl up in one of their big leather chairs with a book before heading next door to see a movie. Heck, you could even get your film developed downtown in those days. And that wasn’t so long ago.
But now, well, the rents are too high and East Hampton is packed with people you never saw before and, well, this place is just losing its sense of place. It’s happening all over, especially on the South Fork, but East Hampton has a very bad case of the place-losing blues.
Sam’s, however, doesn’t have the blues. They’ve been here since 1947 and anyone who walks through their front door gets that old-school, East Hampton hometown love, infused with understated Italian hospitality.
Sam’s signature dish is pizza, but I can’t tell you what’s on their pizza because you can basically choose any kind of pizza you damn well please. And that’s a big part of the magic of Sam’s.
There’s a separate section of the menu for every type of pizza your mind can comprehend. You can pick any kind of cheese (even muenster). You can pick any kind of vegetable, and your choice of meats or seafood on top. And the pizzas even come in three sizes.
Of course, they remind you, their regular pizza comes with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and oregano, and who, really, can argue with that.
We had two teenagers in our dining party. They thought it was cute to order a basil and bacon pizza. At the last minute, one of them threw in a special request that their bizarro pizza have a whole wheat crust.
Our waitress happily agreed to their order, with a “you got it!”
By the way, Sam’s also has great root beer. They serve it in bottles that say Saranac on them, but they also give you very cool old school glasses with ice in them to pour your root beer over. But our teenagers were having nothing of such civilized behavior.
Now, if you’re a grown-up, hopefully all this talk of pizza didn’t throw you off from wanting to visit what is a really nice restaurant. Sam’s has a lot of great Italian food that grown-ups like too. There are no fewer than ten salads on the menu (11 if you count the antipasto), all of which can be dressed up with chicken, shrimp or portobello mushrooms, and most of which have some sort of wonderful mouth-watering ingredient such as artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, fresh mozzarella cheese and sun dried tomatoes.
The entrees are old-fashioned and tasty, and the prices, well, they’re just a breath of fresh air to anyone who has to choose between dining out in the Hamptons and paying the electric bill.
You can order a chicken cutlet parmesan or you can ask for just a half order of spaghetti with marinara sauce. But you can also order some mysterious meals, many of which have names that are the same as people’s names and include bacon. Which is why, I guess, no one batted an eyelash at our bacon pizza order.
The Ziti Raphael comes with grilled chicken, broccoli, bacon and basil, and the Rigatoni Alla Sam’s comes with sausage, hamburger, bacon in a marinara cream sauce. You can also have your rigatoni with an amatriciana sauce, or the linguine puttanesca, with Kalamata olives, anchovies, capers and garlic, which makes for quite a romantic, delightful meal, so long as the person you plan to kiss afterward has ordered the same dish as you.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, Sam’s is also one of the few places where you can simply place an order for broccoli rabe, by itself, any night you darn well please. And that’s the way it should be.
36 Newtown Lane
East Hampton, NY 11937