Restaurant review: Great Greek fare awaits at Sammy's Place
FORT ATKINSON—Sammy's Place resembles an unassuming neighborhood bar I would have passed right by if it hadn't been for a friend assuring me it was a place worth trying.
With no direct road from Janesville, Sammy's is located between Fort Atkinson and Whitewater on Highway 12.
A wheelchair-accessible ramp led us into the restaurant, which opened to a large, circular bar where patrons were engaged in conversation. The hostess quickly greeted us and guided us to an unpretentious dining room that hosts a salad bar, a fireplace with a deer's head mounted above and Sammy's wall of awards.
With its relaxing atmosphere and homey décor, the place reminded Jennifer of the proverbial “up north” restaurant/bar.
We started with drinks, and Jennifer decided to try the cranberry cosmo cocktail ($5). Made with Smirnoff cranberry-flavored vodka, cranberry juice and a wedge of fresh lime served straight up, it was a refreshing and happy drink. Not too tart, it was a perfect combination of sweet and tangy.
Helene was unsure about what to drink. She wanted something refreshing but not too sweet, and the “specials” board offered nothing that sounded good to her.
That didn't stop our server from offering to make a custom drink best suited to her tastes. The result was a tangy grapefruit and vodka cocktail ($5) Helene found revitalizing.
I gave in to a shot of ouzo ($5). It's strong, but you can slowly sip it throughout the meal. I could just as happily inhale the drink's strong smell of anise.
We were surprised to see a large number of Greek selections on the menu, but our server explained the owner/chef moved to the U.S. from Greece years ago.
To test the authenticity of Sammy's Greek fare, we ordered saganaki as a starter. This dish is a classic Greek appetizer of tart cheese melted in a small pan. Our server poured brandy over the warm cheese, lit it and “Opa!” the cheese went up in flames.
After a few oohs and ahhs (and a quick photo), the server doused the dish with a couple of squeezes of fresh lemon. Served with soft pita wedges, it certainly passed our test.
I haven't ordered shrimp scampi for a while. Sammy's was a light but huge portion ($16.99).
Traditionally, this dish is made with butter and garlic and then finished with vermouth. There were plenty of medium-size shrimp, green peppers and onions tossed with fettuccine, but Sammy's signature was the addition of chunks of seasoned, roasted potatoes. I loved it even more the next day.
The pork souvlaki ($12.99), which Jennifer chose for her entrée, overflowing off a huge plate with skewered, tender pork on a bed of rice pilaf and oven-roasted potatoes. The pork, marinated in Greek seasonings, was exceptional.
Souvlaki is characterized by its bright, fresh flavors. With enough food to feed an army, Jennifer knew immediately a to-go box would be requested.
The meal also came with a choice of soup, Greek salad or a trip to the salad bar. Jennifer opted for the french onion soup. Served in a crock, it was comforting and not too salty. The savory broth came topped with melted cheese and a slice of bread.
The portabella mushroom stuffed with crab ($14.95), which was on the specials menu, was Helene's choice. It came with the salad bar, which wasn't huge but offered several different types of salad: beets in white sauce, coleslaw and a bowl of lettuce with several toppings.
The beets and the coleslaw were outstanding, as was the garlic dressing. Helene's entrée consisted of two mushrooms mounded with crabmeat and topped with melted white cheese. The crabmeat was the highlight with its sweet flavor, and the mushrooms provided a nice, juicy base.
Nikki got the Greek combo plate ($16.99). First came the Greek salad—simple iceberg lettuce with cucumber and tomato livened up with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, peperoncini and an olive oil dressing.
Next came the feast: a platter with a skewer of pork souvlaki, a big piece of spanakopita (flaky spinach pastry), a pile of gyros meat and roasted potatoes, creamy cucumber tzatziki sauce and pita bread. Eventually, Nikki uncovered the delicious rice hidden beneath it all. It was the perfect dish for a gyros lover looking for more than a sandwich.
Don't let the humble exterior or a full parking lot dissuade you from stopping at Sammy's. The place has won “Best in Area” awards for seven years straight in many different categories—which is no small feat.
Sammy's regulars must feel blessed to have such good eats close by.
The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.