Everywhere I turn, someone is gushing about Pete and Sam’s Restaurant for engagement parties, birthday dinners, or a fun evening out. I ate at the Italian restaurant on Park Avenue about 10 years ago, and dinner was ordinary and forgettable. I sat in the restaurant’s back room (no charm) and ordered fish (another mistake).
Despite this experience, I’ve had an attachment to the restaurant because our house in East Memphis was built by the couple who owned a much-loved steak house called the Embers, another popular mid-century restaurant located across the street from Pete and Sam’s. This connection coaxed me into giving Pete and Sam’s another try Saturday night.
My recent visit was altogether different, thanks in part to our table in the main dining room and the advice of friends who said, “Don’t order anything fancy. Stick with basic Italian.”
Meat sauce and mushrooms seemed pretty basic to me, and the sauce was excellent, a solid play on what my husband calls “the Southern, sweet Italian style.” I was put off by the canned mushrooms on my plate, but as I pushed them to the side, I decided they added to Pete and Sam’s retro appeal.
My friend Victoria was impressed that the minestrone is made with farfalle pasta, which, as she says, “explodes into big, delicious noodles in the home-made soup.”
The rest of the food at our table (lasagna, toasted ravioli, spaghetti and meatballs) was good, with ample portions and great dollar value, especially the dinner specials that include an entree, a single-serve thin crust pizza, and a second side for about $13.
Be forewarned: Pete and Sam’s is loud, and most people in the restaurant on a Saturday night are having a rip.-roaring good time. I suspect the restaurant’s generous BYOB policy contributes to the vibe. Pete and Sam’s only sells beer, but you can bring your own wine and liquor (one of my friends brought in cold vodka in a mason jar). Set ups or the “empty wine glass fee” are only $3 apiece.
I actually felt a little sorry for the poor fellow trying to eat and read at the table between our party and the group of women wearing cowgirl hats. The friends are members of a riding club called LIGGs (Life is Good Girls) who trail ride together, except when it’s too hot. Then they get together for dinner, which for member Cheryl Ramsey means heading to Pete and Sam’s where she’s been eating several times a month since her college days in the late 70s. “I had steak and spinach tonight. It's one of my favorites,” she said. “But when I’m not watching the carbs, I always get Half and Half: ravioli and spaghetti.”
3886 Park Avenue (458-0694)Hours: Sunday through Thursday 4:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4:30 to 10:30 p.m.