Sammy’s serves it up island style

By: Toby Lewis, Dining View columnist
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Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill

What: Asian influenced island cuisine

Where: 238 Vernon St., Roseville

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday–Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday–Saturday

Prices: $5-$24

More info: (916) 773-7625,

I am no stranger to island cuisine. One of my first jobs after leaving the military (several years ago) was working in a restaurant on the “Big Island” of Hawaii.

So you can imagine my excitement when I was given the chance to review downtown Roseville’s newest restaurant, Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Bar & Grill.

Sammy’s, as it is dubbed for short, is touted as a “family-friendly, island-themed” restaurant featuring pan-Asian influenced cuisine with burgers, seafood, pasta, salads and a raw bar.

On my recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of my old island favorites on the menu, including the legendary Hawaiian dish loco moco.

“The loco moco is hands down our signature dish,” said chef de cuisine Jarrod Faljean. “Although there are other items that sell better, it really has become our staple item relating to the islands.”

Loco moco is not for everybody, you either love it or you hate it, as Faljean explained. While I partially agree with that statement, I am also willing to bet that those who try it will likely come back for it again and again.

What exactly is loco moco? Take a generously-sized ground beef hamburger patty, grill it and serve it over a bed of white rice. Top it off with a fried egg cooked over-easy and finish the dish with a generous portion of brown gravy.

The dish is very popular among locals in Hawaii, usually best served on a Sunday morning after a long weekend of luaus and mai tais. Here in south Placer County, the dish is all but impossible to find.

Sammy’s serves loco moco two ways, taking the dish a step further by substituting yet another Hawaiian staple, Spam, for the ground beef patty and Maui fried rice.

While the loco moco was indeed the highlight of my recent visit to Sammy’s, there is much more to the story.

After reading several less-than-flattering reviews on Yelp prior to my visit, I was feeling somewhat skeptical about what to expect from the new restaurant, which opened its doors on Sept. 22.

But in my opinion, sub-par reviews are somewhat to be expected for a brand new restaurant struggling to work out the kinks and make a go of it, especially in what has been traditionally a very tough area for restaurants to be successful.

The 10,000-square-foot space, which once housed a JC Penney department store, recently underwent a $3 million interior renovation.

The restaurant is bright, airy, laid-back and colorful, adorned with decorative surfboards, guitars, gold records and (of course) large iconic posters of “Red Rocker” Sammy Hagar, leaving little imagination as to the restaurant’s theme.

The restaurant has two levels with two full bars, one upstairs and one downstairs. There is a large stage set up to the right center of the downstairs dining room, almost as if it is meant to be the main focal point.

Live music is offered Thursday through Saturday nights after 10 p.m., when the age requirement shifts to those 21 and over.

A little more intimate dining experience is offered upstairs, where there are several “quieter” tables set looking out over Roseville’s historic rail yards.

Upon our arrival for my recent visit, my date and I were greeted by a friendly hostess and asked to be seated at the bar for a cocktail before dinner.

My date ordered the Sammy’s Rockin’ Daiquiri, a concoction of Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum, fresh sour, lychee and pineapple juices served up in a martini glass.

I opted for the “Red Rocker” martini — Cabo Wabo reposado tequila, amaretto and cranberry juice.

House cocktails range between $7 and $10, which in my opinion is somewhat of an industry standard. But nonetheless, one bar patron, Camellia Hanson of Lincoln, was quite vocal about her distaste for the prices of the cocktails.

“I would love to see them make it because the bar is nice,” Hanson said to me after asking if I was a reporter. “It’s really a super place, but seniors won’t come here because we live on a fixed income.”

After our cocktail and stimulating conversations at the bar, we asked bartender Nicole to notify the hostess we were ready to be seated.

The hostess offered us a table of our choosing and we opted to sit next to the crudo raw bar, close to the stage and in plain view of one of several flat-screen televisions showing live sports.

Our server, Marie, approached the table after a short wait and offered us water and drinks, but did not explain any specials. After that, a busser promptly dropped off two waters and a bowl of potato chips.

While we were tempted to order off of the “pupus” menu (“pupu” is Hawaiian for “appetizer”), we opted to order from the crudo raw bar menu.

Crudo, explained assistant manager Mike Frost, is the Italian take on sushi and the crudo raw bar offered seasoned raw fish as well as ceviche.

The lobster, shrimp and watermelon ceviche looked especially tempting, but we opted for the chef’s choice crudo.

Marie brought us the yellowtail, salmon, ahi yellowfin and char rare ahi crudo. While the flavors of the sauces and seasoning were quite nice, the fish did not taste as fresh as we would have liked.

Later, we found out the restaurant gets fresh fish deliveries on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We were there on a Monday.

For our main course, we relied on our server, who suggested we try the “barbecued pork Sammy” — smoked pork with pickled jalapeno, caramelized onions, queso blanco and black bean crema, served Panini style.

We explained to our server that my date does not eat meat, but she does eat seafood and Marie suggested she try the “beach salad” — mixed greens, jicima, chopped egg, pico de gallo, roasted corn salsa avocado, lime and chimichurri dressing.

Not taking Marie’s suggestions, we decided on a second course of lobster bisque soup to share and a third course of fish and chips for the lady and the kalua pork entrée for me.

Marie returned a short time later with our soup and my date’s fish and chips. The kalua pork entrée was brought out shortly after that.

We found the lobster bisque to be slightly creamier and sweeter than we are used to, but it was tasty nonetheless.

The fish and chips were, well … fish and chips. It’s hard to get that one wrong.

My kalua pork entrée was cooked perfectly, moist and easily pulled apart with a fork. The accompanying barbecue sauce was deliciously sweet. Both dishes were served with a wonderful coleslaw.

Then came the most pleasant surprise of the night — the aforementioned loco moco, which we did not order but I was happy to delve into.

Of course, with so much food, we asked Marie to box up the leftovers and sat down with Frost and Faljean for a conversation over a bread pudding dessert (which was also delicious).

Faljean explained that the concept of the menu is based on a hybrid between Sammy Hagar’s other concept restaurants, Cabo Wabo Cantina and Sammy’s Beach Bar and Grill.

He said the design of the restaurant, the ambience and the live music are all meant to attract people who are simply out to have a good time, and the menu is intended to reflect that.

“We’re really not trying to focus on a high-end crowd, or even the lower end,” Faljean said. “We’re really just trying to have fun with food and put out a great product.”

In my opinion, with a slew of delicious island offerings, the restaurant is doing just that.

Downtown Roseville is changing — for the better. With a growing number of entertainment options in the district, Sammy’s Rockin’ Island Grill is a nice addition.

While some kinks clearly still need to be worked out in the brand new restaurant, I look forward to returning.

Maybe next time we’ll go for a live music show and, of course, more loco moco.

Toby Lewis is a freelance writer with almost 30 years experience in the restaurant industry. Look to each month’s Dining View for his thoughts, insights and opinions about dining in and around Granite Bay. Follow him on Twitter @TobLewis.