A cheeseburger branded by a Sam the Cooking Guy logo
San Diego-based TV chef Sam the Cooking Guy has become Sam the restaurateur guy in the past couple years. First, he opened a Not Not Taco counter in the Little Italy Food Hall, then he launched a full service restaurant Graze by Sam, just across the piazza from the food hall.
807 W Harbor Dr, San Diego
More recently, he was to open a waterfront restaurant in Seaport Village, but due to the pandemic underway, he’s taken a bit of a detour with that property. Rather than opening a full restaurant, he’s split the Sam brand into a multipurpose takeout concept: Eats by Sam. That brand is further split into the self-explanatory concepts, Samburger and Samwiches.
That’s a lot of Sam taking over the prime real estate formerly known as Buster's Beach House, which looks out across Marina Park North to the Coronado Bridge. It will provide lively views eventually, but as there is no dine-in service for now, the project is being billed a ghost kitchen, in the sense it can be ordered for delivery through all the usual delivery apps.
A waterfront walk-up counter in Seaport Village
But really, it’s just doing the covid thing plenty of established eateries have resorted to: serving food across a table set up inside its front door.
Beyond trademarking the names Samburgers and Samwiches, I can’t see any reason for splitting the menu into dual concepts. When you order from the counter on site, or online for pickup, both are available. But, when you order for delivery, you must choose one or the other.
Chili cheese tater tots
I tried delivery first, opting for Samburgers because it has a kids menu, whereas Samwiches does not. The kid meals are super simple: a juice box and choice of fries or tater tots to go with a hot dog ($5) or hamburger ($6).
The adult menu goes along the same lines: customizable hot dogs and an assortment of burgers ranging in toppings from jalapeños and guac to grilled pineapple and bacon. Sides make it interesting, including the likes of fried pickles and an esquites-style grilled corn salad. I dug the “Secret Menu,” which not so secretly appears on both platforms, giving you a choice between chili cheese fries and chili cheese tater tots, both with a fairly tasty no-bean chili. Go with the fries on this one: the tots crumble under the weight of the chili.
The smoked club: turkey, ham, bacon, and (optional) avocado
As excited as I was to try Sam the Cooking Guy’s broadcast “best burger I ever made,”, the American cheese topped Not So Basic burger ($7.85) fell flat. Per his shows and the menu, the burger uses a blend of sirloin, short rib, and brisket, which sounds phenomenal. But despite a Sam the Cooking Guy logo branded into its brioche bun, it ate rather pedestrian.
I had better luck with the turkey, ham, and bacon Smoked Club sandwich, which I was grateful for, seeing as it cost $14.95 including the optional $2 avocado topping. For that, I head over to Seaport Village and enjoyed a little scenery while I waited. It’s a beautiful location, made better now that tourism is down to a trickle. When the restaurant down there opens for real, I’m confident it will be a worthy place to visit.
But for take-out burgers and sandwiches, it all seems like so much branding, and I don’t doubt anyone reading has better burgers and sandwiches within closer reach. From a ghost restaurant or otherwise.