This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.[Krieger, 11/11/10]
To eat at Sam's is to know Louis Migliaccio. Louis is the waiter, bartender, sometime cook and chief bottle washer at this Court Street institution, and the son of Mario Migliaccio, who has made pizzas at this timeless, basement-level, red-and-white-checked-tablecloth joint for sixty years, and is or is not retired now, depending on what article you read.
Louis is tall, with thick black hair, and dresses professionally in black slacks and a tight, white, button-down, short-sleeved shirt. He has a gold chain around his neck, and a pack of Marlboros in his shirt pocket. You can't miss him, and whether or not you like Sam's depends a lot of whether or not you like Louis. He will take a while getting to your table, and longer getting the food, and doesn't take guff. I know some who have objected to his blunt manner and vowed never to go back to Sam's. But plenty of others find his gruffness appealingly Old School. And many, many others—meaning Sam's many Old Neighborhood regulars—have known him and his dad too long to care. But, whoever you may be, you've got to come to terms with the no-nonsense service here before entering. It's Louis' world. You just eat in it. So leave your fancy-pants fussiness at the door and enjoy the meal.
Sam's is easily the oldest restaurant in Cobble Hill. And, as the Migliaccios own the building, and Louis shows no signs of slowing down, it will remain that way for years to come. It was founded in 1930, when the area was called South Brooklyn. The "Steaks" and "Chops" sign outside, the red leather booths, the old bar, the broken wooden telephone booths all probably date from back then. There's an even larger room in back, with more booths and a long table. It's primarily used for big parties. Otherwise, it's cast in eerie darkness, the pentagonal light of the kitchen pass-through window a beacon of light in the back. There are also stairs that lead to a second floor, which I have never seen.
Mario probably made pizzas for longer than anyone else in New York. He used to sometimes talk about how his pies were as good at Di Fara's. They aren't, but they are damn fine, and arguably the best in the neighborhood. The green-olive pizza is a rarity in the pizza world and delicious. Even better, in my estimation are the sausage and meatball heros, which are delicately crispy on the outside, moist, tender and flavorful on the inside. They're cooked in the same brick oven as the pizza, and they melt in your mouth. There are also a variety of old school cocktails on the menu (Stinger, Black Russian), which I don't necessarily recommend. But it's nice to see them there.
Sam's is never really busy. It does a light traffic most nights of a handful of twosomes and usually one or two big families. The old regulars come from around the corner, while others journey from across town back to the old neighborhood. Balancing them out are some young foodies who appreciate the place's food and stubborn authenticity, as well as some folks who are just looking for a good pizza in a relatively peaceful environment. If you bring a kid, Louis' going to playfully joke with them. But if you bring an attitude, Louis' going to stop joking.
—Brooks of Sheffield