Smile Politely

Breakfast at Sammy’s house

Sammy’s Pancake House and Breakfast Café is located a bit outside of downtown Champaign, in the food desert of Mattis Avenue. Sure, there are plenty of drive-thru fast food joints over there, but none of them have servers. Beyond the McDonald’s, Sonic, and Hardee’s, just north of the intersection of Mattis and Bradley, is Sammy’s. Sammy’s Pancake House is more breakfast diner than anything else.

Technically speaking — or at least according to the signage and menu — Sammy’s is a pancake house and breakfast café. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I interpret it to mean that patrons have a boatload of breakfast options, available all day (or at least until 3 p.m. when the restaurant closes). The breakfast menu is four pages long, with items ranging from crepes, omelettes, and pancakes, to Mexican favorites like huevos rancheros. As the restaurant name indicates, there are a variety of pancake flavors available. The restaurant also claims to have the best biscuits and gravy in town, but I had to save that research for another day (and future article). The lunch menu is one page and includes diner classics like chicken sandwiches, hamburgers, tuna melts, and grilled cheese.

I dragged the spouse to Sammy’s early(ish) on Sunday morning. When we arrived around 10 a.m, the parking lot was full. A large group of people was meandering through the parking lot toward the door, so I quickly parked and the hubby and I speed-walked to the front to avoid waiting in line behind them. Asshole move, yes, but I have no shame about that—we were both pretty hungry. The restaurant entryway was bottlenecked, but within a moment the host found us and seated us immediately. The restaurant was packed, and there were only a few available tables that had just been cleared.

It was pretty loud inside the restaurant with the hum of conversation, the clinking of silverware on plates, the sizzle of the griddle in semi-open kitchen, and the occasional outcry of a child. The restaurant’s floor plan doesn’t exactly buffer a lot of noise, so if you’re there while it’s busy, it’s going to be loud.

Our waitress moved with purpose and efficiency. She was polite and attentive, but didn’t waste time hovering at our table as we perused the menu. On her recommendation, I ordered the homestyle cinnamon French toast ($7.49), which came with four slices of cinnamon bread French toast, two eggs, and two slices of bacon or two sausage links. The bread came from Vlore bakery in Springfield, Missouri, whose website indicates that cinnamon swirl bread is, pardon the pun, the bakery’s bread and butter. My husband ordered the corned beef and hash omelette, which was served with a side of potatoes and two pancakes ($7.95).

When our plates were brought out, I was immediately impressed by the accuracy of the in-menu photo; my meal looked exactly the same. It’s been my experience that menu photos — especially diner menus — are laden with color-enhanced stock photos of generic food items. Since we eat with our eyes first, it’s always a bit disappointing when the meal comes out looking like a deflated, gray mess. This was no gray mess, though. The plate was carefully constructed and appetizing.

The cinnamon French toast was quite delicious. It was lightly battered, crispy around the edges and crust, but remained soft, bready, and slightly chewy on the inside. The cinnamon swirl was pronounced, warm, and sweet. It actually tasted like cinnamon bread, something that doesn’t always happen. Although I usually try not to down my French toast in butter, the melty blob present when my plate arrived encouraged me to do so, and the sweet butter soaked into the bread, creating a lovely cinnamon-sugar-butter treat. Even though the syrup was of the ubiquitous generic table variety, it was warm, and when drizzled in moderation was complementary enough. The eggs were perfectly cooked to over easy, and the bacon crispy — not burnt — as per my order. I finished my meal and was more than satisfied.

My husband’s omelette was enormous. The corned beef hash was cooked into the omelette, evenly dispersed throughout the giant fluffy egg beast. It was a little salty, but that was to be expected with corned beef hash. The potatoes left something to be desired: they were golden and crispy-crunchy on one side, and even though the insides were pillowy, they seriously lacked flavor. The addition of salt and pepper would have been enough to make them more exciting, but I’d go so far as to say that the addition of some onions would make them extra delicious. The two plain pancakes were served on a separate plate. They were quite sweet and light, but not all that fluffy.

We each received a lot of food for about $8 a plate, and with the addition of my $2.15 coffee (which was always full and hot), our breakfast cost $19.27 before tip. Sammy’s isn’t as cheap as Sam’s (or as sticky), but Sammy takes credit cards and offers a bit more traditional late-twentieth century suburban diner ambiance. Similarly, Sammy’s is a bit cheaper than Original Pancake House, and the lines aren’t nearly as long. Most breakfast entrées are in the $7-$8.25 range and the menu is more than robust. There are plenty of items — dare I suggest too many? — and all lovers of breakfast food can find something they’ll enjoy.

Sammy’s Pancake House and Breakfast Café is located at 1206 North Mattis Avenue, Champaign, and is open daily, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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