The fire is back where it belongs as Sammy's reopens first pizza shop
by MARTIN JONES WESTLIN
Published - 02/24/17 - 10:33 AM | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It's all in the oven at Sammy's, where wood firing is both science and art.  PHOTO BY LIVETHEDESERTLIFE.COM
It's all in the oven at Sammy's, where wood firing is both science and art. PHOTO BY LIVETHEDESERTLIFE.COM
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If you're in a perpetual search for the best, most flavorful pizza in the history of the universe, and you probably are, you might consider the purchase of a pizza oven. The woodfired kind is coolest because the fire is lit directly on the oven floor as the walls absorb the heat and lock in the flavor.

The drawback, of course, is the price tag. The best residential oven will run you nearly $7,000.

Or you could just go to La Jolla's reopened Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill and kill several birds with half a stone. Not only will your search probably end on the spot; you'll be supporting the venue's place in recent local history and the philanthropic spirit of the guy behind the franchise.

La Jolla resident Sami Ladeki introduced the Village to his flagship venue in 1989, touting his woodfired baking method as ideal for dairy-based items like pizza (which, oddly, is a national dish in food-bonkers France). Things went swimmingly until Sept. 5, 2015, when the building, at 702 Pearl St., sustained $200,000 in smoke damage as a fire started in a flue that emptied to the roof.

About 50 firefighters knocked down the blaze in 30 minutes. No injuries were reported.

The Ladeki Restaurant Group painstakingly rebuilt, unveiling the recast venue on Jan. 30 with a ribbon-cutting and free kid-size desserts. Everything's picked up where it left off, including the iconic wood-fired product that's fueled 20 Sammy's venues in Southern California and Nevada.

"Pizza" is actually a misnomer at Sammy's; the brand's growth has heralded motley entrees like lobster bisque, angel hair pasta, and duck tacos. Meanwhile, chances are good that you're there for the dish that made Sammy's Sammy', and while you're familiar with names like New York, goat cheese and Sicilian, you'll be amazed at how woodfired preparation enhances their taste. A constant 650-degree airflow ensures even cooking of the crusts and toppings, and the moisture in the dough is sealed off.

By definition, "soggy pizza" is a non-sequitur at Sammy's. Even the heavy truffle oil on my brie cheese entree stayed where it belongs.

"I’ve always operated with the premise that food is like fashion," Ladeki said in an interview with Food & Beverage; "you shouldn’t sit still or you might find yourself out of style. Our restaurant concepts have constantly evolved ... and we’ve been able to build strong clientele by keeping the favorites while adding new dishes. Now, I hear all the time about people who have grown up with Sammy’s. I smile every time someone tells me that, because our restaurants have grown with our guests.”

Lebanon-born Ladeki has opened more than 30 restaurants around the world and in 2014 was named Restaurateur of the Year by the California Restaurant Association. The group's choice was a no-brainer amid Ladeki's robust philanthropic history. Schools, small nonprofits and the Make-A-Wish Foundation are high on his list, and the San Diego Press Club recognized as much in 2012, when it conferred its Headliner Award on Ladeki.

Indeed, Ladeki's generosity is evident in his signature dish. Bumper helpings and a commitment to freshness mark his La Jolla venue, and while recent history might note "woodfired" as a bit of a pun, Sammy's is having the last laugh.
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