Sammy's Food Service & Deli
3000 Elysian Fields Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70122
Napoleon's Rating - ***/*****
It's easy to zoom right past Sammy's Food Service & Deli, which is found in that short span between interstates 10 and 610 in Gentilly. I certainly drove past many times unaware that there was much to check out at the plain-looking place with the institutional-sounding "food service" in its name. Once I finally dropped in, though, I retroactively regretted every time I had passed it over. Sammy's is essentially a Creole deli. It started out as a neighborhood butcher shop, and those roots still gird a breakfast and lunch menu of homemade sausages, house-cut steaks and fantastic burgers, all mixed with great casual Creole dishes in a busy lunchroom setting.
The place has a plain, suburban-style look from the outside, while inside it feels like a deli. A line of waiting patrons usually snakes through the place and it's always bustling. The crowd is as diverse as can be, with professionals, contractors, college kids and cops all eating side by side.
You order from the counter and your name is hollered when your meal is ready to pick up. This sounds simple enough, but it rarely works out so smoothly. If the stars align just so, you might enter to find no line and some high-energy ladies ready to take your order. More likely, you'll walk in to find a long line. But in either case, it's hard to find a menu until you're right up at the counter. A little better display of the specials and even the regular offerings would be helpful. Depending on your order and the traffic at the time, you could wait just a minute or two or up to 20 minutes for your number to be called.
Portions here are huge and appetizers would be excessive. If you're having a first course it should be one of the reliably good soups, like shrimp and mirliton, or a gumbo, which changes with the daily specials.
The regular menu and the specials list duel for attention here, and both have their high points. The specials list changes daily and it is quite long. One day you might find smothered beef short ribs or fried redfish covered with creamy crawfish sauce, or a soft shell crab with the same sauce, or smoked chicken salad or Cuban sandwiches. Even the rather plain-sounding stuffed tomato salad is in reality a heaping portion of shrimp remoulade and crabmeat ravigote overflowing from a tomato. Drawing on its butcher shop roots, Sammy's makes its own Italian sausage for pasta plates and its own hot sausage for red beans and rice. Steaks and chops are all cut in house. The same hands-on approach goes into the excellent burgers, which anchor the regular menu. The standard burger is a mere $5 but it is built with a massive 12-ounce, hand-formed patty on a sturdy French bread-style bun. Another regular menu highlight is a sandwich called the "Ray Ray," an enormous combination of fried chicken cutlets under a pile of ham topped with melted Swiss. Fried seafood, roast beef po-boys and meaty salads round out the menu. Sammy's does a pretty standard breakfast of omelets and pancakes and egg plates, and homemade sausage and steak-and-egg options elevate the offerings.
Bread pudding in ready-to-go portioned boxes await anyone with the fortitude to finish a Sammy's lunch with any appetite remaining.
Most people go for the self-serve iced tea and soft drinks, though there is a single Budweiser tap.
This is a bargain place. If there's anywhere making a bigger burger for the money, I haven't found it, and regardless of price this is one of the best burgers in town. Specials are usually between $7 and $13, but even at the higher end it seems a bargain for the quality and size of the meals presented.
Sammy's is the kind of place that combines everyday value with the great flavors of casual Creole cooking and the hands-on approach of a butcher on premises. Though the location and curbside appearance obscure it, there's no mystery why so many people who eat here become regulars and gladly queue up for lunch.