238 Court Street, Brooklyn NY 11201 (at Baltic Street; map); 718-596-3458
The Skinny: A pizzeria that looks like it was transported lock, stock, and barrel from the early '60s has the most amazing old-school dining room. Thankfully, its pizza matches the awesomeness of the blessedly preserved interior
Oven Type: An old coal-burning brick oven that's now fueled by natural gas
Sometimes you just want to love a place for its old-school charm. Sam's Restaurant, on Court Street in Cobble Hill, is one of those places.
With neon blazing outside; old-school, hand-lettered painted signage; and six small TVs inexplicably unreeling footage in the windows, you're already attracted to the place before walking down a couple steps and in through the door that sports a none-too-subtle "NO SLICES" sign.
And that's before you even get a load of the interior. Once you do, Sams' time-warp quality hooks you. The joint is vintage early '60s red-sauce Italian mixed with a little bit of your grandparents' rec room. It is, quite frankly, one of the most beautiful dining rooms I've been in in ages.
Fortunately, there's much to love here beyond the space.
And that would be the pizza.
Play It Again, Sam's
But I have to level with you. It wasn't love at first sight. I'd been to Sam's once years ago but had written it off. On that excursion, our party waited an hour at our table before the waiter took our order. And when he did, it was with a gruffness I didn't quite appreciate at the time. And that pie, as I remember it, was nothing remarkable—or maybe the wait had colored my judgment.
I never went back. But Sam's had popped on my radar a couple times in the last month. First from a food blogger who recently moved in nearby and asked my opinion on it. And then when Girl Slice mentioned that one of her coworkers swears by the place as her favorite pizzeria, the gloves were off. I needed to check out a pizzeria for my Monday dispatch, so it was play it again, Sam's.
This time, the wait between sitting down in one of the comfy red vinyl booths (above) and having our order taken was a speedy half hour. Still a bit unacceptable in most places, but this is Sam's, where things work differently. There seems to be only one waiter at any time, and he takes the orders, serves the food, buses the tables, and mixes the drinks at the bar. And, yeah, he's a bit cantankerous (the word "Talk" was our prompt to order when he finally appeared tableside), but you get the feeling that it's a bit of an act. His mood seemed to change considerably when he saw that Girl Slice and I had made quick work of our entire large pie.
The Pizza and How It Stacked Up
The pizza itself was surprisingly good. Great, even. After harboring years of resentment against the place, I was happy to be munching on a chewy-crisp crust with enough flavor to carry itself even at the end crust (or cornicione) without sauce or cheese.
The crust itself is hearty and quite thick for New York–style pizza (see above), but it's fine and even necessary here, as the sauce and cheese are applied liberally to it. Even with the copious amounts of red and white stuff, the balance is good enough, weighted a bit more in favor of cheese but not so much as to kill the pie as a whole. And the crust is cooked through, thankfully, with no gumline, something you'd expect to find on a pie so blanketed. Going to the upskirt (right), you'll see Sam's manages to put enough color into the crust to keep things interesting and that there's negligible tip sag.
The sauce itself is lightly spiced and tastes of fresh tomatoes. And the cheese is plenty melty, leaving long strings of mozz pulling away from the whole, connecting to your slice. There's enough sharp aged cheese mixed in to give the slice a zesty, salty bite.
A Pizzeria Trapped in Amber
It's amazing that a spot like Sam's remains in business, and thank God it does. In a Cobble Hill that's long since passed the "gentrifying" phase, it's one of those rare spots that has managed to cement the character of the old neighborhood in place. I hope it never changes, but that may be wishful thinking. Eventually everything does. But before it goes the way of everything else along Court Street, I'm going to frequent it as much as I can. And maybe, just maybe, I'll become enough of a regular to reduce the lag time on ordering to 15 minutes. A guy can hope.
Bonus Outtake Photos
Here's a slideshow of all my shots from the Sam's trip—those that made it into the dispatch above and those that didn't. Enjoy!