When done right, a sandwich is a beautiful thing.
Done wrong, it gets traded at lunch for something better, like a half-eaten bag of chips. Or worse, just outright tossed into the trash.
A 'wich from Sam-Witches and Such would most certainly not get chucked. The new restaurant knows its 'wichcraft: fresh bread and buns able to stand up to what's piled inside, which on our visits were top-notch deli meats and juicy, stuffed burger patties.
Sam-Witches - it opened in February in the former China Thai Cuisine location on Tanque Verde Road - is housed in a stuccoed block of a building studded with lots of windows and French doors. It's a light-filled, friendly neighborhood joint, clean and simply appointed with brushed-metal-topped tables and framed prints of European landmarks. It's got five flat-screen TVs and, probably sometime next month, the eatery will serve something stronger than Arnold Palmers when its liquor license is approved.
First-time restaurant owners Tiffany and Ryan Paris wanted to open a place that served the kind of food they like and grew up with - simple, old-fashioned American fare. Biscuits and gravy, burgers, chili. Some recipes, like the marinara-slathered meatballs in the restaurant's meatball sandwich, are longtime family recipes. But re-creating one of her mother's classics wasn't as easy as handing over a cookbook with hand-scribbled notes.
"My mom never wrote recipes down," Tiffany said with a laugh. "She wrote down what she could, but it was 'a couple pinches of this and a couple dashes of that.' "
It took about a week before the Sam-Witches kitchen crew figured out the ratios for the perfect, just-like-Mom-made meatballs.
As the Parises intended, this isn't fancy-dancy food; it's homespun and hearty with a few creative touches tossed in here and there. See the fried Nutella and banana sandwich on the menu? That's what I'm talking about.
Fried pickles ($6.95) aren't skinny little rounds but thick, kosher dill spears, a trick Tiffany picked up in Ohio. That's how the appetizer is served there.
Sam-Witches' version is flat-out fab: An exceptionally light, beer-batter coating added crunch to snappy dills that packed plenty of briney pickle goodness. The other app sampled, the boneless Buffalo wings ($6.95 for a half-dozen) sported a nice sauce - exceptionally spicy, in fact, for mild - but the chicken was of the smooshy, frozen nugget variety.
The Italian ($10.95) was a sandwich engineering marvel - so much stuff loaded into a dense Italian roll from Viro's Real Italian Bakery, where Sam-Witches buys its bread. The Italian was two days' worth of meals. Thinly sliced layers of pastrami, pepperoni and Capicola added the right amount of spice to ribbons of lettuce, tomato slices and red onion. Italian herbs, shredded mozzarella and a just-right balsamic vinaigrette rounded out the flavors.
The fries alongside it were thin-cut and nothing special. The better side here is the addictive house-made chips, which are thick-cut, beyond crisp and, on this visit, simply adorned with salt. The restaurant rotates seasonings, sometimes sprinkling lemon-pepper or Ranch, even Cajun, on the golden chips. In the works: some sort of jalapeño-bacon chip. Look out, Lay's.
Shavings of roast beef spilled out of the French dip ($9.75), which sported a healthy blanket of melted Provolone on top. A warm au jus came on the side along with a creamy horseradish sauce that was too sedate for our taste.
Sam-Witches has a slew of burger options, including a few stuffed versions. The Stuffed Jalapeño ($9.95) packed some serious heat - and flavor - with pepper jack cheese and fresh jalapeños tucked inside two very well-seasoned, juicy Angus beef patties further spiked with diced red onions and green chiles. Lettuce and tomato kept the burger from being overwhelmingly hot.
Sam-Witches recently adjusted its hours to serve an early-morning breakfast crowd on a daily basis. Hefty portions mean you'll be fueled well into lunchtime. The chicken-fried steak ($8.45) practically did count as breakfast and lunch. The full plate was loaded with eggs, toast and a choice of hash browns or home fries. The steak disappointed because it was decidedly unsteaklike - bland cube steak was tucked inside the crisp coating and peppery, charmingly lumpy gravy. The hash browns were crisp and fresh, though.
A special that day - the Suicide King ($6.95) - featured thick slices of fluffy French toast with crisp edges, the middle punched out and replaced with eggs (scrambled was the request) along with sides of crisp bacon and fresh fruit. Real stick-to-your-ribs stuff.
For sure you won't leave Sam-Witches and Such hungry, but be ready - it can take a while to get your order. Even with only a few tables occupied and at different times of day, the kitchen was sluggish. Our suggestion: Order some fried pickles and sit tight.
Sam-Witches and Such
• Where: 6502 E. Tanque Verde Road, 203-7111, samwitches.com
• Summer hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
• Noise level: No problems here, quite easy to chat.
• Alcohol: The restaurant's waiting for a liquor license.
• Family call: Quite kid-friendly with well-priced ($5.45) offerings covering the basic faves - grilled cheese, chicken tenders, pasta and meatballs, and cheeseburgers. You can even opt for veggies over fries or chips. Yeah, and good luck with that.
• Vegetarian options: A few.
• Gluten-free: A few.
• Price range: Sandwiches and burgers cost $6.95-$10.95
Contact Kristen Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4194.