Note: This was posted before the restaurant closed. It has now reopened under Hagar’s son’s ownership and has dropped “Rockin'” from the name. Here’s an article about it.
For my 100th post I visited what was arguably one of the most publicly anticipated restaurants in recent memory, Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill. For a while leading up to the grand opening about two months ago it seemed I couldn’t go more than a week without seeing some article or news story about it. The city even gave Sammy Hagar a “key to the city” and declared September 15th, 2012 Sammy Hagar Day. I found the last bit a little silly, but it’s something to keep the city officials busy I suppose 😉
I skipped out on the big opening party and didn’t really think much of it until it came up when I asked for suggestions on Facebook of where to go next. Along with Four Sisters Cafe I wanted to give them some time to settle in. Anyway, last Sunday evening I met my parents here for dinner. We arrived at about 5:30pm and were seated immediately. Given it was a Sunday they weren’t very busy, I’d estimate they were maybe around 20% occupied at the most.
As you turn into the dining room from the entryway you immediately see the large stage where they have live music a couple times a week (I feel like I heard one of the staff say Thursday and Saturday nights, but check their events page). This is surrounded by the main dining area. Directly across from the stage on the opposite wall is a long, fully stocked bar. To the back and upstairs above the kitchen is more seating and what looked like a second, smaller bar. Finally at the front there is another upstairs dining area with views of Vernon St and the stage. 80’s rock was playing over the speakers, though not very loudly. Overall I’d say the noise level was less than a TGI Fridays type of restaurant, though it was a little slow and of course there was no band this night.
Our server came by and took our drink orders pretty quickly. They have a decent beer and wine selection, though I went with a Pibb. With our drinks we received a little bowl of chips. It took me a moment to realize they weren’t the typical tortilla chips you might expect, instead they were potato chips. Really crunchy potato chips. Kind of odd, but they were good. Our server asked if we were ready or needed some time. We did need a little more time but put in for a couple appetizers, Guacamole & Chips (cilantro, lime, green chile, pico de gallo, just-made tortilla chips) and Spam Musubi (Nori wrapped sushi rice and grilled spam). The Guacamole came out right after we placed our main orders and continued the trend I’ve been noticing lately of good potions and excellent quality. This one is up there with Zocalo and Yard House. We actually had so much that we didn’t even finish it, even though I did try to give it a final go before we left. The chips weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either, they were just…chips.
The Spam Masubi was delayed to the point that it ended up arriving at the same time as our entrees, which was slightly annoying but not a big deal. The plate contained three pieces of fried spam strapped atop beds of sushi rice by strips of nori, all over a thin drizzle of a familiar tasting sweet syrup that I don’t know the name of. I’ve been on a bit of a Spam kick lately for some reason. It’s something I never really had growing up and only tried it a couple times over the last decade or so, so I’ve been picking some up now and then lately. This scratched that itch for a while because that’s basically all it is. The presentation is nice but it’s pretty much just that uniquely salty Spam flavor with a little sweetness from the syrup. That said I’d probably still order it again, I enjoyed it.
My dad got the Katsu Chicken (Panko crusted chicken, shoyu, honey, house pickled carrots & cucumber, Island slaw, white rice) which looked good. He seemed to enjoy it. My choice was the Kalua Pork (Spice rubbed slow cooked pork, roasted pineapple-ginger bbq sauce, white rice and Island slaw). What arrived might as well have been a full sized pig. It was one of the largest single slabs of meat I think I’ve ever ordered. I had to switch to my wide angle lens to fit the whole thing in the frame. It was a little over an inch thick and had a good amount of rich, almost viscous BBQ sauce ladled on top. For a moment I wondered how I was going to tackle this thing with just my butter knife and fork, but as soon as I started to cut into it I realized just how amazingly tender it was. I really only needed my fork because it fell apart with very little effort. It was absolutely incredible and pretty much melted in your moth. The BBQ sauce was deliciously sweet and I used the rice to soak up excess amounts. The cole slaw was a second thought in my mind and I didn’t have more than a couple bites. I ended up taking it to go (along with half the pork and rice and the last piece of Spam Musubi) and enjoyed it quite a bit for lunch on Monday. It had a nice sweetness with some coconut flavor mixed in there. The sheer amount of food I received for something like $12 was staggering, especially considering how good it all was. I was stuffed again after finishing it all the next day.
My mom’s order was, unfortunately, not as amazing. She went with the Lobster Mac & Cheese (four cheeses, lobster meat, toasted panko, red flame grapes). Right away she commented that the lobster tasted really fishy and started picking it out. I took a bite of one of the big chunks of lobster and had to agree. The mac & cheese itself was pretty good once the lobster had been removed. On top of that the grapes didn’t have much flavor to them. Pretty disappointing, especially considering how good mine was. She did mention it to our server when she was clearing our plates and asking how everything was, and to the restaurant’s credit, they did the right thing and took it off the bill. In fact they went above and beyond and comped the dessert we ordered as well, which I thought was very nice of them.
The dessert was the Hawaiian Salted Caramel Bread Pudding (warm brioche bread pudding, salted caramel, Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum ice cream). I’ve only had bread pudding a handful of times but I always seem to really enjoy it. I think it’s something about the variety of textures you can experience in a single bite, from the soft, almost gooey inside to the firmer/crustier top and sides. Add to that a scoop of really tasty ice cream and you can’t really go wrong. By the end my mom and I were fighting over the last caramel-soaked bites at the bottom of the bowl.
Aside from the lobster mac & cheese, which was handled properly by Sammy’s staff, I thought this was a really great dinner overall. It wasn’t all that gimmicky – which was one of my fears, – the prices were all very reasonable and the service excellent. It’s a really neat place visually speaking, and I bet it would be pretty cool to actually go see a show there. One thing I would mention is that the menu is not very vegetarian friendly, which played a part in my brother not joining us that evening. For a carnivore such as myself however there are a lot of tasty sounding options 😉