I drove home again this weekend—it appears that I just cannot stay away from Wildwood for too long. I left school Thursday night to tackle the seven-hour drive so I would not miss out on a full day gallivanting around the island and indulging in the weekend activities.
There was a lot of events going on around town this weekend—or near it anyway—some of which including a beef and beer at the Bolero Resort for the Jimmy Simcox Memorial Foundation on Saturday night and the Polar Bear Plunge in Sea Isle City earlier during the day. But this weekend also marked another special event—the official seasonal opening of Sam’s Pizza Palace.
Whispers circulate for months surrounding the exact date of the Sam’s Pizza reopening. It is an awaited event around the community, and when it does finally happen, everyone in town flocks to 26th and the Boardwalk to snag a slice. It has been that way for as long as I can remember, and for a good reason.
Locals like to call it their spot, even though it is open to anyone and jam-packed with everyone every single night of the summer, sometimes stretching until early hours into the morning, usually with a wait for a booth, a line outside the door and a crowd around the open counter facing the boardwalk, where one can grab a quick slice and keep walking along without having to sit in and eat. Familiar faces own and operate the palace, and familiar faces are always coming and going and sitting and conversing. That is part of the Sam’s Pizza appeal—the relaxing atmosphere of a neighborhood hangout and the guarantee of seeing at least one neighborly face with each visit. But then there is the pizza.
I think the secret is in the sauce, or maybe the kind of cheese, or maybe it is just the way every ingredient mixes and compliments each other when each final, perfected pie comes out of the oven. It could just be the charm of watching as they make the pies in front of the diners at the open counter. Whatever it is, my mouth waters with only the smell of the slice when it is placed in front of me. I pick up the slice and enjoy the first bite. I’ve waited months for this.
I’ve been going to Sam’s Pizza since I was little. When my parents used to take us up to spend hours on the piers riding the amusements, Sam’s is where we went beforehand for dinner. I remember sitting in the back of the old Sam’s, pre-fire, at a large round table, with my parents and brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins all gathered around. I remember knowing the guy making our personal pizza behind the counter. Our waitress was my brother’s friend from high school, and the people at the table next to us lived down the street.
When I was in high school, and my friends and I knew Sam’s opened on a Friday, 2:20 PM was all we would think about, when the buzzer of the bell finally sounded, and we were let out of the building to go do as we pleased. Lines of cars followed behind one another from the school to the boardwalk, parking outside in the lot as a group of fifteen or more of us ran up the ramp and overtook the entire inside of the place. Ironically, Sam’s soon eventually employed a good majority of this group—more of a reason for my crew to spend every waking minute there.
When I went off to college, the opening of Sam’s Pizza was one thing I missed. But whenever my friends and I did come home for the weekend, it was always the first place we ate, and in some cases, stopped, sometimes heading straight there before heading home. The quality of the pizza and the connection we feel to the place keeps us coming back for more.
This year was the first year where I didn’t go up to Sam’s when I heard it reopened. I did, however, order a few pies to go and brought them to a family gathering for everyone to enjoy. I guess I could say that counts all in the same. I got to taste that first bite of Sam’s Pizza, for which I had been waiting for months.