Restaurant Review

Sammy’s Ye Old Cider Mill

It’s fitting that Sammy’s was one of the first restaurants to be reviewed in the pages of this magazine because it was one of the oldest in the state to serve food—or at least alcohol—continuously.

Opened as a speakeasy in the 1920s during Prohibition, it has operated as a steakhouse since 1933, and with no sign outside it’s not much easier to find today than it was then. Hint: look for some of the world’s fanciest cars parked outside a white clapboard house.

The inside is as simple as the exterior. Tables are arranged in long rows, creating more of a school dining-hall ambience than a restaurant. At one end is the hostess stand where you place your order. It used to be that the few items served were written in chalk on a blackboard, but now there is actually a menu inside a plastic cover. The process is the same, however: After a quick look at the menu, you state your choices and then head down to a basement bar with stools and a few small tables. The drinks downstairs are quite expensive, and you may have to wait a long time before the bartender tells you your table is ready. Fortunately for the many families who come here with children, there are also a bumper pool table and video games. It’s better to go either very early or very late because reservations are not accepted.

Much of the food is quite good, particularly the steaks, chops, and lobster. This is not elegant food, but it is hearty and plentiful, relying on good ingredients. Some appetizers are basic: pasta with vodka sauce, spaghetti with red sauce or garlic and olive oil, and a dish of red roasted peppers that taste as though they come from a jar, served with sliced garlic and oil. In season, more creative appetizers include very good fried soft-shell crabs in a tempura batter and stone crabs. Sammy’s shrimp scampi is a favorite; the large shrimp in a substantial garlic sauce are sometimes a bit chewy but always flavorful, and can also be ordered as a main course. Lobster cocktail is much better than the ice-cold, flavorless shrimp cocktail.

Sammy’s hallmark is very good meat accurately prepared. The restaurant has been in the same family for three generations; siblings Sam, Phil, and Mary Ann Fornaro are the present owners. Their wine list has won awards from Wine Spectator for the last eight years, and the waitresses are more adept at opening and serving wine than many a fancy sommelier in more pretentious restaurants.

Steaks, all dry-aged on the premises, are a good bet here, whether filet mignon, T-bone, strip, or rib-eye. They are accurately cooked, as are the chops, though the chops are not well trimmed. The pork chops can be tough, but during recent visits both the lamb and pork chops were delicious. The veal chop with lemon butter sauce also got raves from a European guest.

Lobsters are also usually very good and reliable, whether you choose single, double, or surf and turf. The thin French fries are addictive; even though they are no longer fried in beef suet, they still have more flavor than most. But the sweet corn served on two occasions at the height of the corn season was bland and waterlogged.

Skip the desserts, which are truly awful.

 

Reviewed in: November 2006

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Seafood - Steaks
  • Price Range:
    Expensive
  • Ambience:
    Rural mess hall or VFW
  • Service:
    Very efficient
  • Wine list:
    Excellent

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