In the early 1990s I was a health education specialist for the local American Red Cross. One nice spring day, one of the first warm days of the season that year, I was blessed to have an early day off from work and a couple of dollars in my pocket. When such things combine nicely together, I tend to cackle and rub my hands like an over-the-top villain in a comic book. (In my defense, spring days tend to bring out my younger side.) With loot in my pocket, I decided to check out this restaurant everyone had been talking about.
"Oh, you have to try the wings!" I heard repeatedly.
"Their rice and gravy is good, too!" they all said. "The whiting is the best in the area."
So I dropped by Sam's Bar and Grill (www.samsbarandgrill.com) on Main Street in Pleasantville for some wings. Since that meal I have never stopping talking about how good the whiting, rice and gravy and chicken wings are at Sam's.
Sam's is one of my favorite places for soul food in all of America. Other than "my momma's house," Sam's is my hometown place to break bread and brag about.
For years, whenever I visited friends in New York City, they almost always took me to Sylvia's in Harlem for lunch or dinner. The food was the closest thing to home cooking one could get and the portions were almost as good as "momma's." Much of NYC's young, gifted and black (and white and others) were always eating at Sylvia's. The atmosphere lent itself to discussing business or loading up on good food before going to a show or an event. All of NYC was proud to bring their out-of-town friends and clientele to Sylvia's and glad to give Ms. Sylvia their business.
These days, when I go to Philly, the soul-food places I'm taken to most often are Delilah's at Reading Terminal Market, Bottom of the Sea and Keya Graves Seafood and Steak. Look 'em up next time you're there.
So when people call to say, "I'm in your city, Raymond," I always tell them, "I hope you like soul food!"
I take great pride in driving friends, family and business contacts to Pleasantville to have something from Sam's menu. Sam's has a neighborhood feel that makes you feel as if it's been there for 20 years and will be there for 120 more. We'll check out whatever game or highlights are showing on one of the three flatscreens, take a couple of menus and grab a booth.
Over at the bar, someone is always "arguing" about a game -- either a game that just ended or one about to come up. This time of year I mostly overhear people complaining that their March Madness brackets are in tatters.
The service is always good and fast. The waitresses always have a smile and give you the feeling they are glad to see you there. The biggest change for me, however, is not introducing my guests to the owner -- the late Sam Hunter -- anymore. I would look toward the end of the bar and "Mr. Sam" would always be there and take a break from his conversation to give me a, "Hey, big fella!"
A little while ago I received an e-mail from Jacob Hunter telling me that his father Sam had passed away. Jacob told me that he was now making the business decisions for Sam's place.
I still love Sam's incredible lunch specials. You can get great soul-food dishes to keep you full well past dinner time for less than $6. It's still the best place for a lunch meeting in my book. I take my dad there for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Sundays, which features orange juice, grits, home fries, eggs, whiting and much more for less than $11.
"Miss Flo" is still there with her Eagles gear and a "how you been?" The jukebox still plays James Brown and Aretha Franklin as well as Fantasia and Chris Brown. I'm still proud to do business with Sam's, only now it's Jake who may be pouring a beer, or sometimes in the kitchen, or even in "Mr. Sam's" spot -- and I know that I'll still be bragging on Sam's and enjoying the food for many years to come.
Raymond Tyler hosts Let's Talk About It on Fridays from 7-8pm on WOND 1400AM and Alternative Soul Fridays from 2-4pm on WLFR 91.7FM.