190307SAMS

Nikki Bolka, a member of The Gazette’s restaurant review team The Four Dishes, ordered this serving of veal parmigiana with spaghetti during a recent visit to Sam’s Pizza on Milton Avenue in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

It was snowing yet again, and the roads were treacherous. The consensus was to postpone our original plan to drive out of town and instead stay close and check out a hometown restaurant.

Piping-hot Italian food sure sounded soothing and comforting, so we decided on dinner at Sam’s Pizza at the corner of Milton and Mount Zion avenues in Janesville.

Who isn’t a fan of their pizza? For the last 20 some years, we have debated whether they have the “cheesiest” pizza. So we asked ourselves, “What else could we discover with a closer look?”

It turns out, a lot. Sam’s has much more to offer than just pizza.

The dimly-lit dining room boasts a dozen tables, and brick-lined, arched windows add architectural flair. Because of the weather, it was not as busy as it might have been on a weekend evening, but we did notice quite a few people stopping in for carryout.

Our server quickly seated us and took our drink orders. When we started asking questions about the menu, she was quite engaging and informative.

Our first inquiry was about the bosco sticks ($5.50), which she explained are garlic breadsticks. She suggested we order the garlic cheese bread ($3.25), which is the most popular appetizer at Sam’s. Good call. Six pieces of garlic bread covered in velvety, cheesy goodness arrived. We quickly gobbled it up.

I was intrigued by the Sicilian salad ($8.65), because the list of ingredients was endless: lettuce, cheese, sausage, tomato, green olives, black olives, pepperoncini. It was a huge plate of beautiful food. What I was not prepared for was the fennel in the sausage. That has long been my favorite spice and something that I don’t find too often. It made me very happy.

I was also in the mood for a calzone, and there was a variety to choose from on the menu. I went with the house calzone, ($8.39) not knowing for sure what was in it but expecting something similar to a multi-ingredient salad. The calzone was huge with salami and ham encased in a toasty, brown, soft bread, and it came with a large helping of thin fries that were nicely crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. (Be forewarned: You’ve got to eat them while they’re hot.)

Helene enjoyed the lasagna ($8.50), which comes with a side salad (or on weekends, coleslaw—your choice). She opted for the coleslaw, which turned out to be quite good with a light mayonnaise base, a lovely oniony flavor and fresh cabbage and carrots. The traditional lasagna was made from noodles, cheese and beef with a savory tomato sauce. It was plain but tasty.

Nikki ordered the veal parmigiana ($9.20), something she enjoys but doesn’t often find on menus. She had a choice of spaghetti or mostaccioli and decided on the spaghetti. It was a very saucy dish, with the veal and pasta completely covered by the homemade sauce.

Nikki’s meal also came with a basket of bread, and like me, she would have been content to just eat bread and the sauce. But the breaded cut of veal was a nice alternative to the more common options of eggplant or chicken parmigiana, which Sam’s also offers.

Jennifer selected the Italian meatball sandwich ($6.25). It featured three large, perfectly seasoned meatballs hidden beneath an ample amount of homemade tomato sauce and luscious melted mozzarella served on French bread. Though she wasn’t overly hungry, she managed to finish it all.

Jennifer’s meal also came with french fries and a choice of salad. After hearing the coleslaw at Sam’s is made from scratch, she knew she needed to try it. The dish featured chopped cabbage, carrots and onion served creamy and not overly mayonnaisey, and she said it was the crispiest coleslaw she had ever eaten.

As we got ready to leave, we learned a fun fact about the coleslaw at Sam’s. Our server told us that by happy accident, she discovered adding coleslaw to the pizza took it to another taste dimension. Nikki, who is the only one of us who had never tried Sam’s pizza, later got a veggie pizza ($16/12” medium) to go with a side of coleslaw, and she later confirmed the recommendation.

Who knew Sam’s coleslaw (only available on weekends) would steal the show?

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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