Despite a recent triumph for Carroll Gardens, an area that once hosted one of the city’s most concentrated Italian communities, there are few remaining vestiges of the neighborhood that was. Among them is Sam’s Restaurant, a quintessential red sauce joint and pizza destination helmed by Louie Migliaccio, the self-named “Son of Sam.”
Though the place isn’t exactly bustling, it is without the sense of doom that lingers over so many neighborhood relics that feel gentrification’s apocalyptic pinch. The Migliaccio family has owned the building, including the apartments above it, since the 30s; worries of mortgage payments or ascending rents haven’t been an issue for decades. Nor has the concept of modernizing, apparent in the dining room’s plastic poinsettias, wood paneling and plaster cast effigies bathed in an awkward florescent light. There’s also a kind of archaic sexism here (Sam’s menu reads “If your wife can’t cook, don’t divorce her, keep her and eat at Sam’s…you will both be happy”), but we forgive it the way we forgive our grandparents for their occasional lapses in political correctness.
The menu is vast—21 varieties of pasta, 12 veal dishes, 13 fish and half as many “fowls”—but the main event, the pizza, is relegated to a list of toppings. When pressed, Louie offered this morsel, “We’ve got two kinds of pizza—small and large.”
Sam’s serves a contentious pie. Some swear by the crust, others find the sauce too sweet and the cheese too sporadic. It hasn’t embraced the expensive flourishes of descendants like Fornino and doesn’t attract the kind of die-hards willing to queue outside Grimaldi’s. But the honest, brick-oven cooked pies achieve moments of greatness with toppings like simple minced garlic or shredded escarole and very occasionally fall short—on Gothamist’s recent visit the meatballs were noticeably dry.
The best of Sam’s might well be Louie, whose wise-cracking bravado ranges from bawdy one-liners to tales of the Carroll Gardens of yore. By 11 pm on a recent Friday night, when just blocks away, places like Brooklyn Social Club and Last Exit were beginning to pick up speed, Louie had cleared the tables and was finishing the last of the glasses behind a long, florescent-lit bar. “This place has been here for 75 years, I’ve been here for 49,” he said. “But I’ll take the neighborhood the way it was 30 years ago.”
238 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Photos by Daniel Krieger