Sampsons Soul Food, 353 N. Calvert, Baltimore
This hole-in-the- wall soul food place has just opened after the space was briefly occupied by a Central American place (the décor has not changed at all) and before that a Jamaican place. It’s mostly take out, but has ample formica-topped tables available. It is tucked down behind the Mercy Hospital construction and right now seems like it could use a lot more foot traffic in order to stay open.
You will not find friendlier folks in the city. And you will likely not find better lake trout either – mine was easily on par with my favorite – Faidley’s - when I had it. (Go on Tuesdays when they get their order in, because by Thursday, it’s gone.)
The menu and the boards on the wall list everything from hog maws with chitterlings and turkey necks, to shrimp salad sandwiches and (yes, this is Baltimore) crab cakes. But don’t expect any of those things to be available when you go, or you might be disappointed. Just ask what they think is the best thing that day, look at what’s on the steam trays in front of you, and go with your gut.
The stewed chicken, and baked turkey wings have been very nice. Things to avoid (and I say this with regret because all of them are things I love when done well): the oversalted and under-cooked/flavored collards, the undersalted, mushy and uni-dimensional mac-n-cheese, and the dry bread pudding with artificially flavored lemon curd goo on top. But! The house made potato salad is terrific, and the candied sweet potatoes are passable too. I haven’t tried their pies yet, but today’s special was sweet potato pie for $2.50.
They seem to be a family and friends operation, still getting used to food service, so be patient, be very specific about what you want, and check your order and your bill before you leave.
Don't waste your time. I tried Sampson's for lunch. It was dreadful on all fronts.
The service was so slow and confused, we wondered if they'd just opened yesterday. (They didn't. They've been open for 3 months.) It took 25 minutes to complete our order, which, by all means should have taken 5. Especially as there were no other customers in the store.
After ordering a few things from the menu and being told they were out of them, we ended up sharing the ribs platter and the fish sub.
The food in the "steam trays" was then taken into the kitchen and appeared to be microwaved to order.
The fish sub tasted like a frozen fish stick wrapped in a giant sub roll. Or a McFish that was stingy on the fish and generous on the bread. The melted american cheese was the highlight of the sandwich.
The ribs were mediocre. The collards were oversalted. The yams were overly sweet (and quite possibly straight from the can).
This place was bad middle school cafeteria food at best.
Ordinarily I'd give the benefit of the doubt that maybe it was an off day, but imho, Sampson's didn't show any promise that any other day would be on. This soul food just had no soul.