EAT & DRINK DULUTH RESTAURANT REVIEW
Sammy’s Pizza feels like home - Family. Friends. Traditions.
Sammy’s Pizza – specifically their West Duluth location – feels like home for me and my husband Mike. While I can’t pinpoint the exact number of times we’ve gathered at Sammy’s with friends and family over the years, I do know that we can safely call ourselves “regulars.”
And, for good reason. Sammy's food, service, and atmosphere provide the perfect setting for any occasion. Their unique, square-shaped pizza slices - featuring crimped, cracker-thin crust, homemade sauce, and plenty of fresh toppings - are deliciously cravable.
I suspect many of you can relate. Sammy’s boasts an almost cult-like following. Their extremely loyal customers hail not only from Duluth but across the United States.
The restaurant has also garnered attention from some reputable organizations. In 2015, PMQ Pizza Magazine inducted Sammy’s into its Pizza Hall of Fame — which pays tribute to popular pizzerias in business for 50 years or longer. And in 2018, Sammy's was also voted “Best Pizza in Minnesota” in Minnesota Monthly Magazine's Pizza Bracket Challenge.
Sammy’s leverages this well-deserved reputation with their apt tagline, “Family. Friends. Traditions.” The perfect summary for such an iconic Duluth hotspot.
Please join us for this edition of Eat & Drink Duluth, where we enjoy some delicious ‘za - and a pasta dish - from Sammy’s Pizza!
Sammy’s Pizza was established almost 70 years ago by Sam Perella, affectionately known as Grandpa Sam. From the Sammy’s website:
“As World War II soldiers returned home from Italy telling tales of their favorite food, the popularity of pizza in the U.S. grew. Sam Perrella, a former miner who owned a small café in Keewatin, picked up on this growing trend. Having connections in Chicago, Sam visited with some pizza makers and returned home with an idea that sparked and gave birth to what is now Sammy’s Pizza.
“In October 1954, armed with enthusiasm and their own secret recipes, Sam and his wife, Louise, opened the doors of the first Sammy’s Pizza restaurant in Hibbing, MN.
“As their business flourished, they helped their family and a close friend open their own pizza restaurants. Today, some 69 years, 15 locations, and more than 25 million pizzas later, Sammy’s is now in its fourth generation of pizza makers, who all still use Sam’s original recipes.”
Sammy’s in West Duluth (located at 403 N Central Avenue) opened in 1956, and is family-owned and operated by Mike and Pam Jerulle, along with their son, Nick.
Tony and Kelly Jerulle, owners of Sammy's Pizza restaurants in Grand Rapids, Hibbing, and International Falls, are also partial owners of the West Duluth location.
Having undergone a bit of an aesthetic refresh, Sammy’s West Duluth looks a bit different these days. Rather than the bold reds and greens of old, their new flooring, paint, and light fixtures feature a neutral color palate.
Vintage Sammy’s photos adorn the walls, along with a few updated pieces. A cool metal pizza-shaped wall piece, featuring food-related phrases, is a newer addition. The restaurant features a combination of tables and booths, and offers a private dining room in the back.
While the restaurant is often filled with families and couples, on this Tuesday evening, the clientele was a little different. The other patrons included several young to middle-aged groups of men, who, if I had to guess, appeared to be blue-collar trade workers. There was also a small group of middle-aged women.
In addition to dining in, Sammy’s also offers delivery and catering within the local area.
Sammy’s is obviously most well-known for its pizza. As noted, Sammy’s pies feature a signature, crimped crust (with hand-tossed dough, made fresh every morning), and small slices cut into yummy little squares. Their proprietary sauce has a smooth texture and a flavor profile highly unique to Sammy’s.
But Sammy’s has many other choices, too. Appetizers, wings, broasted chicken, fish, pastas, stromboli, subs, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, soups, and salads round out the menu. Desserts are also available. Gluten-free and gluten-free cauliflower crusts are available in the medium size. Patrons can also order frozen pizzas to go.
Beverages include Coke products, beer, and wine. Sammy’s also offers daily specials, and a pizza buffet is served daily from 11 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., and Monday nights from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m.
I decided to indulge in what Sammy’s does best and went with a pizza. Rather than choosing one of their “Legacy Pizzas,” I did a build-your-own featuring chicken, onions, and black olives. The pizza arrived piping hot, with a generous side of pizza sauce that I had requested for dipping.
Once the pizza cooled a bit, I went to town. The gooey, melted mozzarella was a perfect complement to the crisp onion, chewy olives, and savory bites of chicken. The thin, crispy crust was light and perfectly crunchy.
From the Sammy’s website: “Some call it a signature crimped crust. We call it a canvas for our masterpieces.”
And, being a Sammy’s sauce lover, being able to dip each bite in a dollop of their extra sauce was an added delight.
I paired my pizza with a Castle Danger Cream Ale, from Two Harbors-based Castle Danger Brewery. Golden in color, it has a soft, malty aroma, a slightly sweet, creamy texture, and a balanced bitterness. This refreshing, light beer finishes smooth and clean.
Mike chose the rigatoni with meatballs. From the menu:
Our authentic Italian pastas are served with garlic bread and a cup of soup or side salad. Add freshly steamed broccoli to any pasta for 1.95 more.
Spaghetti, Rigatoni or Fettuccine - Choice of pasta, homemade meatballs (2) or Italian sausage, and our family recipe spaghetti sauce.
Mike opted for the chicken noodle. The savory soup featured thick noodles, rich broth, plenty of chicken, and crisp carrots and celery.
The plate of rigatoni – cooked perfectly al dente - was generous and included two large, thick slices of buttery garlic bread. The spaghetti sauce is also authentically Sammy’s, with a savory flavor and texture. Two giant meatballs sat atop the pasta.
Mike paired his pasta with a cold, easy-drinking Busch Light. Both of our beers were served in thick, frosty mugs. Is there any better combo than beer and pizza? I think not.
While Mike polished off his entire plate, those with less robust appetites would be able to make two meals out of the rigatoni. And my medium-sized pizza provided plenty of leftovers. Dare I say, Sammy’s pizza somehow tastes even better the next day.
Our server, Emma, is a hard-working young lady still attending high school. She has been working at Sammy’s for two years. Her confidence and menu knowledge were impressive, defying her young age.
Emma was able to answer all my menu questions with ease. Other than having to get another server to deliver our beers (because she is underage), she was personally attentive to our every need.
In the interest of gaining knowledge and building rapport, I asked Emma a few questions, such as: What are the most popular dishes at Sammy’s? And, what is her personal favorite?
“I would say the most popular is the Sammy’s Special,” she said. This “Legacy Pizza” features Italian sausage, onions, and light green peppers.
“And, our garlic cheese bread appetizer, served with spaghetti sauce, is another popular choice,” she added.
Emma’s personal favorite is a uniquely customized stromboli. “I like to get mine with extra cheese, pepperoni and pineapple, and then dip it in our sauce,” she noted.
Sammy’s Pizza has earned its well-deserved reputation for serving amazing pizza (and plenty of other items) in a comfortable setting. It’s a great place to celebrate with friends and family, or enjoy a slice on a random weeknight. Add in the fact that the venue is family-owned and operated, and you have a winning combination.
To us, Sammy’s is quintessentially Duluth. Stop in to the West Duluth location, and consider starting your own traditions at Sammy’s.
To learn more, please visit sammyspizzawestduluth.com.
Andrea Busche is a Duluth and regional freelance writer credited with over 1,000 bylines in local print and digital publications. Her food column, Local Pairings, was first featured in Duluth.com magazine, and later published in the Duluth News Tribune from 2016-2018.