1200 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Sammy’s Trattoria in Mt. Vernon is the one Italian restaurant in Baltimore I wish I could like. With a large, airy, yet somehow cozy corner location and the genuine, authentic feeling of a family-owned and -operated business, it has all the potential in the world and just disappoints. My third visit to Sammy’s featured slow, inattentive service, a stripped-down but overpriced menu, and over-seasoned and improperly cooked dishes.
Capellini ala Lula: shrimp, mushrooms, and artichokes in a lemon garlic white wine sauce over capellini: $21
To be honest, I found it hard to decide on a dish from Sammy’s menu because I remembered quite a few more options on previous visits. There seemed to be a surprising lack of dishes featuring varying pasta and sauce combinations as had been listed before and as is typical of Italian fare. I settled on Capellini ala Lula for its seemingly light sauce and the interesting combination of shrimp with artichokes and mushrooms, which was a flavor combination I hadn’t yet tried.
Although visually clean and appealing, my first bite tasted of nothing but lemon and pepper and made me cough immediately. Bite by bite, the dish was inconsistent in flavor, as though the sauce just wasn’t properly combined and the ever-present black pepper overwhelmed my palate with enough heat to stifle any other flavors on the plate. As I moved a few things around on my plate, I came to realize that what appeared to be pieces of the artichoke were actually large chunks to actual whole cloves of garlic. The photo above illustrates that there was enough garlic mixed into the pasta to comprise an entire bulb of garlic—the worst example of over-seasoning I’ve ever seen. A diner would return a dish after finding just one of the many pieces of garlic strewn about this dish.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara: “Breakfast Pasta” a light cream, parmigian cheese and egg pasta bowl with pancetta & Italian sausage: $17
It is also worth noting that I was dining with a friend who ordered Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Although I didn’t taste it myself, I didn’t truly want to. Described as “Breakfast Pasta” because of the combination of Italian meats and the mixture of eggs, cheese, and butter or olive oil as a sauce, the dish looked more like scrambled eggs on top of dry pasta—a clear indication that the chef did not stir the mix as it cooked to keep the ingredients combined and the eggs from solidifying.
At first clearly understaffed with a packed two floors of diners at 7 p.m., when we returned at 7:30 p.m. to a modest crowd of first floor diners, the waitstaff continued to appear frazzled and distracted.
After being seated, we waited about five minutes before being presented with menus and a wine list; the wine list was actually missing from inside of the jacket, so we had to wait another five minutes or so just to request another one. Upon placing our drink order, the wine did not actually arrive for another ten minutes or more. It was actually a great portion for $7 a glass, but was presented with something like a scrap of paper floating in it.
Our server was hurried, never introduced herself, and never made eye contact with us; I had to request an explanation of the specials clearly displayed at the front of the restaurant, which she hardly seemed to know. I asked specifically about the ravioli special, of which there were two, and she quickly rattled off the ingredients of one and then nearly walked away before I could explain that I was curious about the other, as well.
I want to believe that this was just a bad day for a once great little spot in the city. This experience just had the earmarks of a struggling business cutting corners. From being short staffed and cutting menu options to using pasta from a box (as visible from their open kitchen) and hiring inexperienced chefs who cannot execute what is left of the menu, I can only imagine the crowds at Sammy’s Trattoria will dwindle and yet another restaurant will fail on the corner of N. Charles and Biddle.