Every so often it's good to take a break from the new restaurants getting all the buzz – the places on the cutting edge of fusing Asian with whatever – and get yourself into a good, old-fashioned pizza joint.
That's why we ended up in Sam's New York Pizza the other day, grabbing a table in the tiny place that bills itself as "a real Italian family owned and operated pizzeria."
It's the sort of place that wears its pride as a pizzeria on its sleeve. For example, there's a framed picture of Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti in "The Sopranos" near the entrance, and the following quote said by Christopher on the show:
"Don't disrespect the pizza joint."
There are only five tables inside (there's take out and a delivery service). Customers order at the counter and then wait at the table for the good stuff to arrive. Service during our recent visits was like it always is at Sam's – mostly younger guys, all of them respectful, but no one's going out of their way to chat you up, which is just fine by us.
There are a couple of televisions on the wall showing sports, but the cooler thing – if you like New York City – are the photos on the wall from the city, including a wonderful shot of the World Trade Center with the Statue of Liberty in the foreground.
If you have kids along, there's also the entertainment of watching the chef hand-toss the dough for your pizza – he really got some air under it while we watched. Not sure why that is cool, it just is.
The menu is simple and focused. There are a handful of salads. There are 10 sub sandwiches – the Meatball Parmigiana is a favorite – and Stromboli. A calzone also is available – pizza dough filled with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. On the side comes the only tomato sauce Sam's serves: "our Nonna's homemade recipe." It's a nicely blended concoction, smooth and with more tang than sweet.
From the Oven Baked Dinners menu, we tried the hearty Eggplant Rollatini. The eggplant was seasoned and fried until tender but not mushy, wrapped around ricotta cheese and covered with a layer of mozzarella. Other dinners include the Lasagna and Baked Ziti. Every dinner comes with six house made garlic knots oozing with butter. Sam's also serves meaty chicken wings that have been rubbed with an Italian herb seasoning, giving them an extra zip.
The regular cheese pizza always is a great way to start with any pizza joint – there's no faster way to find out whether it's good or not. Sam's Cheese Pizza meets all the criteria for pizza lovers – the dough is fantastic, Nonna's sauce provides the underlying zip and the cheese is slightly browned on the top. You'll also not see the sort of grease you'll find at other pizza places. And the large version is just $11. For us, a well-made cheese pizza is all that is required to enjoy a good pizzeria.
We also tried the Meat Lover's pizza. The ham, sausage and pepperoni were thinly sliced, and small pieces of meatball and bacon were generously scattered. Heavy, but again it lacked the grease, even with all the meat onboard. Of course, there are a lot of choices between Cheese and Meat Lovers – you can order the toppings of your choice from a list of 21.
There's also a Veggie (tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and black olives), Hawaiian (ham and pineapple) and a sauce-less White Pizza (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheese). There's also the Stuffed Pizza option, which involves putting up to five toppings inside two layers of dough.
There's no kids menu. But let's put it this way: any time we've told our daughter we're getting Sam's for dinner, her reaction has always been, 'Yes!" Fuggetaboutit.
There's no pretension at Sam's. It's exactly what it advertises itself as being: a really good neighborhood pizzeria. Whether it's in your neighborhood or not, it's worth your consideration on pizza night.
Dining Review Sam's New York Pizza
Sam's New York Pizza
Bottom Line: Consistently above average, reasonably priced neighborhood pizza joint
Where: 4351-A Gunn Hwy., Tampa, 33618
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Children's Menu : No, but come on, it's pizza
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Price: Entrees range from $1.95 (pizza slice) to $19.95 (extra large stuffed pizza)
Call: (813) 969-4444