Smile Politely

Sam’s Café keeps it simple

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that in all the time I’ve lived in C-U, I’ve not had breakfast at Sam’s Café. Shameful, I know; I won’t rattle off excuses now. Last week provided the perfect situation for grabbing breakfast at Sam’s Café: up and out of the house early enough for an early breakfast, no obligations for the remainder of the day, cash in the wallet, parking meter money in the car. It was meant to be.

My husband was on board for this early breakfast outing (I promised him pancakes), and we embarked upon our adventures. When we got to Sam’s, I was a bit surprised by how crowded it was — it was, after all, the middle of the week. A quick look around the joint revealed that most of the diners were basking in the glow of retirement.

Speaking of basking, when you walk into Sam’s you’ll be basking, marinating, and otherwise soaking in the glow of a greasy spoon diner. Sam’s is super small, with a counter and stools in front of the exposed kitchen on the left, and several worn tables crowding the rest of the space. Trying to find our two-top table required a little maneuvering and sucking in of the gut (good thing we hadn’t eaten yet). The noise level was on the higher side: the clinging of silverware on plates, the sizzle of eggs and bacon, the hum of conversation punctuated by laughter, and the squeaking of chairs across the floor created a lovely, urban cacophony. I was suddenly reminded that I live in a micro-urban community—a mini-city, if you will.

The menu was already on the table, sandwiched between the salt and pepper, ketchup, mustard, and sugar packets. The menu (like the walls and the floors, I imagine) was a little sticky and bore the residue of previous diners. It wasn’t too off-putting, though; I knew what I was getting into when I walked in. In fact, it was precisely the residue of previous diners that made my breakfast experience wonderful. It’s a no-frills kind of place, where you can get two eggs, a pork chop, and toast for $5.95.

Sam’s Café serves breakfast and lunch, so the menu items include eggs and pancakes and fried chicken sandwiches. The hubby and I took a quick look, and when our waiter came to the table, we placed our orders. I’m predictable in my breakfasting, and in addition to my coffee, I ordered the All Day Breakfast Special ($4.25): two eggs (over medium), bacon or sausage (bacon, extra crispy), and pancakes or toast (pancakes). I suppose I just like a little bit of everything. My husband ordered two eggs (scrambled), pancakes, and a side of corned beef hash.

As we waited for our food, I took a moment to consider the atmosphere and décor. The ceiling was a quilt of lawn signs — you know, political, or in this case, marketing, signs you stick in the grass on your lawn. It made for an interesting and diverse ceiling, and some good reading material. Everything was used and a little worn. I took a better look at my fellow diners, and among them were seniors, a couple with their baby, young adults, a couple of guys in suits and ties, and people like my husband and me, who fall somewhere in between. Sam’s is one of a few places in town that truly reflects the diversity of the community in which we reside.

Our food came out quickly, and the tiny table for two was swallowed up by plates. My coffee had arrived a few minutes prior, but was too hot to drink, which made it so much more desirable. My eggs were perfectly cooked to over-medium. The whites were cooked through, and the yolk was warmed, but remained viscously liquid. The bacon was salty and extra crispy, without being burned. The two pancakes that arrived were soaked with butter, which was super sinful and super delicious. They were sweet and light, with fluffy insides and crispy edges. I drizzled a little bit of syrup on them, but it wasn’t even necessary because they were moistened by the butter and sweet enough on their own. (I’m not a huge fan of table syrup anyway; perhaps I’m spoiled and entitled, but I really only like maple syrup. I think all breakfast eateries should offer maple syrup. I’m willing to pay a little extra for it.) My husband’s scrambled eggs were pretty dry, but were tasty nonetheless. The corned beef hash was nicely hashed, and super salty. It’s not my favorite thing, but if it’s yours, I think you’ll be satisfied. Breakfast was great. It was filling, delicious, affordable, and my cup of coffee was always hot and always full.

The waiter quietly dropped the check on the table, and we paid up at the counter. Sam’s is cash only, so come prepared. Our bill came to $10.86. That’s practically free around these parts. And to get a ton of great breakfast food on the cheap? Can’t ask for much more.

Sam’s Café is located at 115 N Walnut Street in downtown Champaign, and open Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 6 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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