Sunday, June 29, 2014

Betting On a Good Time at Sammy's

Sammy's Original
23221 Lake Center Drive
Lake Forest, CA 92630

You have probably driven by it numerous times, and wondered what was going to become of the old Black Angus that used to sit adjacent to the North 5 Freeway, between El Toro Road and Lake Forest Drive. Yes, the inevitable had happened to that Black Angus spot, it finally succumbed to mediocre food and a bad location. If you were stuck in some traffic on the freeway, you might have spied some work being done on the old building earlier this year. There is a new restaurant taking a crack at this space, Sammy's Original.

I had heard about Sammy's awhile back, and have seen some pictures of their food, and other goings on at the restaurant on their Instagram page. They opened in February of this year, and have had big crowds for each of the triple crown horse races this year. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Sammy's is an off track betting spot, where you can watch and bet on horse races throughout the country. This is the second OC business that has taken advantage of a 2007 law which allows satellite wagering at bars and restaurants, we also reviewed the other spot, OC Tavern down in San Clemente.

If you had ever been to this location when it was a Black Angus, you will be in for a shock. Gone is the dark and dusty feel of that restaurant, replaced with a brighter and cleaner feel at Sammy's. Of course the brightness could be coming from one of their more than 120 TVs, or maybe the lights on the wall that spell out Sammy's. Definitely a Vegas sports book kind of vibe here, and be aware that no one under 21 is even allowed inside this restaurant. For customers unfamiliar with betting on horse racing, there are cards on each table explaining the betting process and rules. I like to bet on horses, but I was more eager to experience their food and dining experience at Sammy's.

We arrived at 6PM on a recent Saturday night. The place was pretty empty, except for our party of seven and a couple of older gentlemen, who did not seem to care about the food or drinks here, but were content rooting on their horses. Think grizzled Vegas old men, who probably know more about horses than I know about hockey. Since we were the only group eating during our entire stay at Sammy's, we had the full attention of our very attentive waiter.

The kitchen at Sammy's is run by a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and former Head Chef and Owner of Vine Restaurant in San Clemente, Justin Monson. He has created a menu that has all of the things you would expect to see on a sports bar menu, but with a gourmet twist on many items. I was pretty excited to see what this new restaurant had in store for us.

The only one of us drinking on this night was Lynn, (no surprise there). She considers herself to be a bloody mary connoisseur, so I was not shocked that she wanted to try this Sammy's Bloody Mary ($10). The house bloody mary at Sammy's uses Absolut Peppar vodka, Demetrius bloody mary seasoning, Tapatio, and then garnished with half a pickled egg, a shishito pepper, and bacon. Lynn liked this bloody mary, but did send it back for a less spicy one. She has a pretty low tolerance for spice, as does the rest of her brood. She liked the non-spicy version much better.

As is customary when we go out to dinner with Katie's family, we always order appetizers. This evening we ordered three, starting with these Crispy Chicken Wings ($9). These came topped with shishito peppers, a touch of soy sauce, and lemon. These wings were pretty good sized, with plenty of meat on them, and they were fried crisp. They were kind of tame in the flavor department though, which suited Katie's family just fine.

We also tried the Vintage Hot Wings ($9) as well. These were much better than the first ones, because they had more flavor to them. They were served with the traditional celery and carrots, and a very well made blue cheese dip, which I took full advantage of. The meatiness and crispness of these wings made these a clear winner in this unofficial battle of the wings at Sammy's. I'd definitely get these again.

The one non-wing starer that we ordered were these Pale Ale Beer Battered Green Beans ($7). Growing up I was never really a fan of green beans, maybe because we only had the canned ones, but these prove that anything deep fried can be made delicious. The batter was light, but still had a decent crunch to it, which did not overpower the green bean inside. These came with another well made sauce, this time it was a roasted garlic chipotle dipping sauce. This sauce went well with the green beans, but in truthfulness, this sauce would have gone great with anything. These disappeared quickly from our table.

Even though we had three appetizers for the table, I still felt the need to have this Wedge ($8) at Sammy's. When it hit the table, I was even more glad that I decided to have it. This colorful salad contained the traditional quartered iceberg lettuce head, then was topped with bacon, red onion, tomato, blue cheese crumbles, green onions, and the same very good blue cheese dressing that was served with the wings. I liked this wedge salad a lot. It had plenty of dressing on it, the tomatoes did not over take the salad, and there was plenty of bacon on this. There was not only bacon crumbles, but also a strip of bacon included on this. There was so much bacon on this that Scott Slater would even be proud of it.

Even after five years of being together, and most of that time feels like it has been in restaurants, Katie still surprises me with some of the things that she orders. Take for instance this Ham Banh Mi Sandwich ($8). I never would have guessed that Katie would have gotten this, but there it was sitting in front of her. This Vietnamese inspired sandwich started with a base of black forest ham, and then was topped with pickled carrots, jalapenos, and mayo, all on a brioche roll. Katie did not really get a banh mi kind of feel to this sandwich. The carrots kind of tasted bland, not pickled at all, and the jalapenos used here were extremely hot, and took over this sandwich big time. The sandwich also was dry, and only made better when she asked for another side of mayo. She would forgo this sandwich on future visits.

Both Jimmy and Emily had the Sammy's Burger ($10), which is listed on the menu as using prime American beef, then topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, arugula, and roasted tomato mayo. Both of them liked their burger, and Emily was even gracious enough to cut me off a quarter of her burger for me to try. She probably did this because she's not used to eating so much, but I did appreciate it. She had requested her burger to be well done, which is not my preferred way to have my burger, so I was not in love with the burger portion that I ate here. The patty was definitely well done, and not juicy. No fault of Sammy's on this one, since this is the way that Emily likes her burger. The fries were okay here, and they sure did give out a good amount of them.

Both Dennis and Jason were enticed by the special that was offered on this night, the Prime Rib Sandwich ($11). This sandwich was served on ciabatta, with what appeared to be shredded beef in a barbecue sauce and cheese. Not really what either one of them was picturing when they ordered this. Neither one was really excited by this sandwich, and Jason even though it was a little on the boring side. This was served with potato chips that must not have made too big of an impression, because they never even mentioned them.

Katie's mom Lynn was all about trying the Fish and Chips ($13) on this night. At Sammy's they use fresh Atlantic cod as the fried fish, and she left here pretty happy with her choice. She liked the lighter than usual breading, felt the fish lacked the greasiness that other fish and chips sometimes posses, and felt the serving size was just the right size for her smaller appetite. This fish came with the same fries that made their way out with the burgers, and a side of coleslaw, which was a little on the dry side. The tarter sauce served with this fish was very fresh, and made me think that it was made here.

I really had a tough time deciding what to have at Sammy's, and I finally settled on this Reuben Sandwich ($10) after everyone else had made their picks. This sandwich included pastrami, thousand island dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, all on marbled rye. This was not a good version of this sandwich. The pastrami was not very good quality, and it was sliced too thick for even my tastes. The rest of the sandwich kind of got lost in the shuffle as well. The thousand island was spread a little too lightly, the cheese was barely noticeable, and the sauerkraut did not have its usual zing. The only part of this sandwich that did its job was the bread. It stayed firm, and kept everything together. This came with coleslaw as well, and it was again pretty tame, providing little to no excitement level. I'd skip this sandwich on future visits.

We were not really planning on getting dessert, but our waiter brought out these Funnel Cake Fries ($5) since he heard Katie and I would be getting married soon. These were just like your carnival style funnel cakes, but in stick form. They were served with a trio of sauces; chocolate, caramel, and raspberry. The best of these three was the raspberry, which when dipped, resembled one of the Hostess O's donuts that left supermarket shelves years ago. I liked these, but wished that the sticks were a little bigger, so they could hold more of the sauces.

The food at Sammy's is definitely not triple crown worthy, it's not even one leg of the triple crown worthy. The stuff we had on this night was mostly average. The appetizers and salads were pretty good, but the dinners we had failed down the stretch. Sammy's is a new restaurant, having been in business for only five months now, so it's not surprising that they still might be experiencing some growing pains. Their menu that is posted online is seriously out of date, with many things on it that are not even offered now. Maybe they will find their groove eventually with the entrees, but for now appetizers are the way to go here. The service we experienced on this night was very solid, but we were our waiters only table. He knew the menu pretty well, and answered all of our questions competently. I'd leave it as this, if you are a big fan of horse racing, want to bet on horse racing, or just don't want to drive to the nearest track, this is the place for you. If you're more into getting a great meal, don't bet on getting one at Sammy's.

Out of five bugles, (because they are the musical instrument that is used to start a horse race), five being best to zero being worst, Sammy's Original gets 2.5 bugles.

For more information about Sammy's Original, go to their website here:

Sammy's Original on Urbanspoon


  1. Hope they change that "banh mi" name to something else. How can they serve unpickled carrots on a banh mi?????? Blasphemous!

    2.5 stars for this place seems a bit generous considering the comments in this review

  2. Anonymous - I gave them the benefit if the doubt since it's a new restaurant, and the salad and appetizers were good. I hear you about the banh mi, not worth getting. It's basically a ham sandwich with carrots. Going to be interesting to see what becomes of this restaurant. Thanks for reading the blog.

  3. Is it ok to take kids there?

  4. LJD - I"d suggest that if it's before 8pm, then kids are definitely welcome. After that time it gets to be a little more clubby. Let me know how you like it.