Sammie’s Italian Offers a Taste of Italy in Downtown Austin
The former Hut’s Hamburgers space is transformed into a ritzy Italian hangout
Bada bing! There’s a new Italian restaurant in town. But it seems really old. Which is exactly the point. Sammie’s is a nostalgic take on the ‘red sauce’ joints of yesteryear, featuring a throwback menu of Italian-American favorites and a swingin’ old school vibe.
Last year, Sammie’s took over Hut’s Hamburgers on West Sixth and transformed it into a ritzy, clubby Italian hangout straight out of the ‘60s. The place is unrecognizable as its former self: the exterior is now painted fire engine red and adorned with candy-cane striped awnings. Its tufted leather front door opens into some sort of time warp from mid-century New York or Hollywood.
There’s a checkerboard floor, cozy leather booths, flickering votive candles atop white tablecloths and luminous chandeliers crowned with tiny red lampshades. Vintage black-and-white snapshots line the walls, and a hand-painted cityscape mural borders the polished wood bar. A clandestine private dining room and wine cellar are sequestered in the rear.
Outside, there’s a wraparound patio, but the real action is indoors, where patrons swarm the bar and attempt to be heard over the cacophony of animated chatter and pulsing music. Meanwhile, waiters in starched red jackets navigate the scene, delivering strong cocktails and groaning platters of Italian comfort food. The festive vibe is Rat Pack-meets-present day Austin, and you half-expect Frank Sinatra to pull up in a Tesla.
Sammie’s Italian is an homage to its original namesake. The 1939 art deco building initially opened as Sammie’s Drive-In, a curbside restaurant offering fried chicken, burgers and beer. Over time, it became a dive bar, followed by the legendary Hut’s Hamburgers for the past 50 years. It’s now part of the MML Hospitality empire, which includes beloved Austin eateries like Jeffery’s, Clark’s and Elizabeth Street Café.
Like all MML restaurants, Sammie’s is chic, stylish and transports you to another place — but also to another era, cleverly winking at the theater of retro mid-century Italian dining. The place reeks of special occasion, enticing you to dress up, but your comfy stretchy pants are more apropos to accommodate the portion sizes. Servings are huge and meant for sharing. At Sammie’s, you’re gonna eat well and you’re gonna eat a lot.
Start with a well-made cocktail as you nibble on the complimentary bread basket filled with homemade focaccia and bread sticks. My Cipolla Gibson martini was simple perfection, and my dining companion gave his Negroni two thumbs up. The menu features modern riffs on time-honored Italian-American recipes, like the Caesar salad, which is anything but pedestrian. Little gem lettuce is tossed in a creamy dressing, then dusted with a chili crunch mixture of Aleppo peppers, chili flakes, garlic, anchovies and breadcrumbs. Try it with a glass of Marina Cvetic Riserva Trebbiano from d’Abruzzo.
Fresh clams are broiled in a spicy arrabbiata tomato sauce simmered with roasted garlic, shallots, oregano, basil and white wine. Sprinkled with a focaccia-pancetta-chili-fontina crumble, the bubbling platter packs a lot of flavor and demands extra bread for dunking. A glass of dazzling Sesti Sauvignon Blanc from Tuscany nicely tamed the heat. The Shrimp Francese is another tasty starter. Plump Gulf shrimp are battered and pan fried, then coated in a silky sauce of butter, garlic, lemon and white wine. Again, get some bread for sopping.
Like any good red sauce joint, Sammie’s has a sizable offering of pastas, such as Cheese Ravioli with Bolgonese, Baked Manicotti, Lasagna and the wildly popular Mafaldine pasta in a decadent mushroom truffle sauce. There also are grilled items like the Niman Ranch pork chop and Dry-Aged Bistecca alla Fiorentina for two.
Other classics include Veal Marsala, Chicken Piccata and Parmigiana served three ways: with eggplant, chicken or veal. Go for the veal, a massive bone-in chop, pounded thin, breaded, then smothered in delicious red sauce and melted mozzarella. For dessert, there’s cannoli, cheesecake and an outstanding tiramisu with voluminous layers of mascarpone whipped cream, dark rum and espresso.
Sammie’s may look old, but it feels and tastes fresh, capturing a beloved bygone era and ushering it into today’s Austin. It’s a destination for excess and cheeky fun where everyone has a great time. Ring-a-ding-ding!