The One Where I Finally Get Around to Trying Pete & Sam’s

Posted by Holly Whitfield | October 19th 2011 4224 0

My name is Kerry. I’m 26 years old, I’m a native Memphian, and last night was my first time going to Pete & Sam’s.

I know. Shame on me. How, at my age, could I not have tried Pete & Sam’s? The best answer I could come up with is that my mom never took me when I was a kid. Also, the place always looks intimidatingly packed. Plus, it’s the sort of place that people either love or love to be over – I’d heard both that it was the best Italian food in town and that it was way overrated.

Pete & Sam’s is one of those windowless family-run joints that seems to have gotten stuck in whatever year it opened (in this case, that was 56 years ago). It’s constantly Christmas inside Pete & Sam’s, but they decorate for other holidays in spite of the twinkle lights and tree (last night, for example, everything was covered in Halloween cobwebs). The main dining room smells like garlic and melted cheese.

Toasted Ravioli from Pete & Sam's, Memphis, Tenn.

My mom (who, despite never taking me to Pete & Sam’s, goes there all the time) recommended the ravioli, so I ordered it toasted as an appetizer. While it was very good and all crispy and warm, I probably will reconsider ordering an appetizer next time because the dinner menu is kind of insane.

Everything in the “Italian Dinners” section of the menu (mostly pasta dishes) comes with a soup or salad and two sides: baked potato, Italian spinach, a small pizza, ravioli or spaghetti. You can get pasta as a side to your pasta.

Pasta with a side of pasta, Pete & Sam's, Memphis, Tenn.

I ordered the lasagna with minestrone soup, Italian spinach and salami pizza. The minestrone soup was pretty tasty, but nothing super special. My pizza, which came out between the soup and lasagna, was good, though. The crust is cracker thin, which kept it from being too filling.

Salami pizza from Pete & Sam's, Memphis, Tenn.

My lasagna came out in a huge, oval serving dish that was only slightly smaller than a football. It was a homestyle mess of meat and cheese and sauce. If you have an Italian grandma, this is probably the kind of lasagna she would make for you. The spinach was so rich, creamy and cheesy that there’s no way it actually counts as a vegetable.

Lasagna and Spinach from Pete & Sam's, Memphis, Tenn.

I made it about halfway through my lasagna before the mind-reader waitress brought a to-go box for me. She told me that everyone leaves with a to-go box, and I’m sure it wasn’t hyperbole – my dinner was the sort of thing you’d eat if you were training for a marathon or trying to move up a weight class. It’s the kind of cheesy, carb-loaded goodness that sticks to your bones.

Pete & Sam’s is both kid and large crowd friendly. They’re open Sunday – Thursday from 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. If you’re planning to go on a weekend night, prepare for a wait – the restaurant is hugely popular.

Go there:

Pete & Sam’s
3886 Park Avenue,
Memphis, TN
(901) 458-0694

Pete & Sam's on Urbanspoon

Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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  1. kaitlyn sage says:

    Pasta with a side of pasta? And so close to me? Yes please.

  2. Whitney says:

    Congratulations on your first visit! Pete & Sam’s is my crowd’s standard birthday dinner location, and has been for years. This is mostly due to the fact that P&S is BYOB, which is awesome.

  3. iAmBaronVonTito says:

    i’ve been trying to go here for years and i was always told it was kind of pricey, but no one ever told me it was because you get a FEAST…jeepers creepers.

  4. ernie ward says:

    I grew up going there. I lived in Sherwood forrest area. My favorite dish is the shrimp, and fettigienie with/in cheese sause. Killer!!!!

  5. Stefanie says:

    i also grew up going there. still go there – matter of fact, my childhood and teenage BFF and i have plans to go tomorrow night. =) toasted ravioli, italian salad, and spinach!

  6. Eljay says:

    I made many jokes about Olive Garden having the worst Italian food, and after eating at Pete & Sam's, I owe the Olive Garden an apology. Pete & Sam's is the worst. The food, the service, the facility, and the prices were all substandard. Our party sat where half the table had lighting and the other half was so dark, I had to use my cell phone to make light to read the menu. The waiter made a rude remark to our guest for having confused him by ordering a "plain" salad, which the waiter interpreted as a "dry" salad, and upon correcting him, he got irritated, to which I sternly corrected him right back. I had to get up to get our guest straws, get my own beer that he forgot, and other things. I had to ask other waiters for help because mine was no where to be found, and the other waiters seemed embarrassed about it. 
    The food that I sampled from others at the table, including my own was bland, plain, burned, or just nasty. I spotted several people offering their food to others at the table because they didn't like it. I saw one person scraping something gross off his food that was not food. I ordered the eggplant parmigiana, which had many parts darker black than my car tires. I chipped off the burned sections and tried eating the rest, but it was the most repulsive eggplant parmigiana I ever had. It was so soggy, it could have been a soup. After pouring it out of the stainless steel boat they cooked it in and onto a plate, I notice the entire bottom was black and burned. Nasty. The salad was no better, just a small bowl of iceberg lettuce and a few pieces of tomato hardly worth mentioning, and for that they charged an extra $4.50 (an overcharge of a buck from their menu listed price). 
    I was eager to forget this horrible dining experience, get up from the dark drab hole we were seated in, and get in my car in their worn down parking lot and leave, but that's when I noticed the 'insult to injury'. They had hidden $7 in the subtotal (and no it was not gratuity). Understand, they hand write their tickets, and do not use a calculator tape to show the math, which makes it easy to overcharge (purposely or not) a customer. Not only was I overcharged, but I was then charged tax on the overcharge. I held up the line with no apologies to have them run it on an adding machine, and they were embarrassed to find I caught them.  No apologies from them, just defense for their waiter making a mistake in doing simple math. They cared more about their incompetent (possibly dishonest) employees than customers.
    After eating at the Cordova location about three times, this was about my fourth time trying them out. I thought maybe their main location would be better. Nope. It was horrible in all areas of dining. Now, I know what you're going to say, but they are a Memphis landmark. That means nothing to me when I'm rating the dining experience and especially the food and service. I have tried them enough times now to know that they must have a cult following to continue giving them business when the food, service, prices, and atmosphere is as bad as I described. They are a complete waste of time and money to eat there. But if you want to support them just because they are a Memphis landmark, go for it. I just recommend you eat first and don't expect much from the service. 

  7. Jo Taverna says:

    Best Italian food in Memphis, we try to eat there once a week. The Italian food is like grandma used to make but the steak is good too.

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