Think Steakhouse and diner, and what comes to mind is big, juicy flavoursome cuts of meat, chunky chips, delicious fruity pies with lashings of ice cream and a plethora of feel good delights to feed the stomach and the soul.
So, as we ventured to Sams Steakhouse & Diner in Pudsey, we were expecting big, American-sized portions of food, fun and frivolity.
Our group of seven had selected Sams (a search party has been sent out for his apostrophe) as the perfect middle meeting point as we all live in either Leeds or Bradford. We had all driven past previously and made a mental note to try it. And so it came to pass.
For those travelling from Leeds, the restaurant is located off the busy Bradford Road dual carriageway, just before the Thornbury Roundabout.
There is ample on-site parking. It’s set slightly back from the road, but the big neon sign and bright frontage will ensure first-time visitors won’t miss it.
This restaurant building has undergone several overhauls in recent years. Just a few years ago it was part of the Aagrah chain, then enjoyed a brief stint as an Italian restaurant called La Rosa.
Now it’s taken on an ‘American diner’ avatar, and our generally pleasant visit suggested this could turn into the most successful incarnation yet. The emphasis is on ‘could’.
Our group had pre-booked for a Friday evening. On arrival, we found the restaurant only half full, which was a minor cause for concern. The atmosphere was generally pleasant, the welcome very warm.
There is no pretension here to anything but a classic American diner tag. It starts with the big neon sign outside, and leads to big splashes of colour and comfortable booths inside, An American flag and big dose of 50s music help set the scene, if a little too self-consciously.
In fact that self-conscious retro-ness could also be interpreted as a lack of imagination. Too many elements seem lifted straight from the ‘how a 50s American diner should look’ guidebook. It’s a little uninspiring – diner dining by numbers – and some creative quirks would not go amiss.
The menu, with dishes like buffalo wings, surf and turf steak, chilli dog and burritos, shouts its offer of Tex-Mex flavours loudly and proudly. The food is all halal and there is no alcohol served, which might put some people off, but for others this will make it a perfect family setting.
Our party of seven decided to share a large plate of ‘buffalo’ chicken wings with a trio of sauces (£7.95) and a second shared platter of Sam’s Nachos Supreme (£5.95).
Both featured eight portions each, enough to give our collective tastebuds a tasty and piquant kickstart.
The chicken was fall-off-the bone tender and the sauces zingy. The wings had been marinated in a special herby mix, and came with a choice of Peri Peri sauce, ‘Mama’s Hot Sauce’ and my favourite, the sweet and sticky smoked barbecue. The tortilla pieces were absolutely huge, and were served in a fun ‘pizza’ style, with each of us taking a ‘slice’. The combination of chilli con carne on large home-made tortilla chips, with traditional guacamole, sour cream, salsa and jalapeños, was a universal hit, and we were fighting over the eighth and final piece. The chilli was intense but not overpowering, just a well concentrated flavour.
The mains ranged from a selection of handmade burgers made from locally sourced fresh beef, to a selection of steaks and grills, and American street food and diner staples like chilli hot dog, Mexican burritos and smoked barbecue beef ribs.
The majority of our group opted for burgers, with the Milwaukee burger (£10.95) and Hawaiian burger (£11.95) particularly popular. These were served stacked high with big, chunky onion rings on the top, and the satisfied sounds from various directions suggested a generally happy experience. The meat was juicy and flavoursome, and the portions generous as expected.
Another of the party had opted for the sirloin steak (£14.95) and I selected the spicy chicken Mexican burrito (£8.95), a tortilla wrap packed with a tasty, juicy and heartily spiced filling along with the usual accoutrements.
The steak was clearly a high quality cut, and was cooked well to the ‘medium’ requested, although the fat could have been trimmed off. The accompanying peppercorn sauce had real depth and flavour.
All the dishes came with an obligatory big portion of fries, and although some of our group enjoyed them, the majority felt they had been somewhat cheated. It seems a culinary crime to call yourself a steakhouse and forego chunky homemade chips for overcooked, freezer-bag fries that would be more at home in a 99p burger-and-chips setting. At the fairly hefty prices paid for the steak and burgers, it seemed a reasonable enough expectation.
The menu also offers classic ice-cream milkshakes and a daily dessert board, with blueberry cheesecake among the more tempting options. I felt this offer could be expanded even more though.
Feeling suitably stuffed, we decided against dessert this time. Our bill worked out at around £16 each, which included soft drinks.
In the few days since our visit, the offer has been expanded, and the design of the menu is a whole lot more attractive and user friendly.
Sams is definitely a work in progress. The owners need to stop the box-ticking, and instead concentrate on fine tuning the promising and crowd-pleasing menu, which is clearly heavy on flavour and freshness, and injecting some creativity to the decor. Given time, Sams can find a permanent place in the Leeds/Bradford dining scene. Now it just needs to rediscover that carefree, fun spirit to truly reflect its American dream.
Address: Bradford Road, Pudsey, LS28 8ED
Opening times: midday to 11.30am Monday to Sunday
Tel: 01274 662020