Located just beyond the Highland Strip, Sam’s Deli stands proudly as one of Memphis’ best-kept secrets, serving a variety of delicious items from classic New Orleans style muffulettas to Chicken Tikka Masala and Bi Bim Bop.
Although Sam’s—named after the owners’ German Shepherd—is relatively new to U of M territory, Brad and Shamira Wilbanks have been serving up subs to Memphians for quite some time now. The couple originally set up shop at a Marathon gas station at the corner of Perkins and Summer. Last summer, the Wilbanks made the move to South Highland, opening an intimate deli space with walls filled with Tiger and Volunteer memorabilia, deer head mounts, and more Memphis inspired wall art. The decor of the restaurant was all but typical, and the food matched the uniqueness of the ambiance.
Upon arriving, I was immediately struck by the overwhelming cultural variety of menu items. Having heard the place was known for its muffuletta, I was just justifiably confused when I flipped through pizzas, salads, sandwiches, chicken wings, burgers, Bi Bim Bop (also served in Burrito form), a $14 Indian special available only on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and an all-day six-dollar breakfast menu before I even lay eyes on the word muffuletta. And that’s the most dangerous thing about Sam’s Deli. The sub I ordered was so good; therefore, I can only assume everything is that good, keeping me in discomforting state of suspense until my next visit.
Anyways, the menu was beyond unique. Including an appetizer section that had everything from samosas to fried pickles, a chicken tikka sub, a gyro pizza, a variety of Bi Bim Bops, and Indian style desserts, Sam’s seemed to have it all. I opted for the chicken tikka delight while my friends tried the gyro sub and the Korean chicken bi bim bop.
All three items were fantastic, leading me to believe that all items are delicious, as they are being prepared by two great chefs, each specializing in their own craft. In fact, we are all so pleased that we decided, after some convincing from Shamira, to take a classic muffuletta to go. I was skeptical, after being told that this would be the best muffuletta I would ever eat in my life. I haven’t eaten a ton of muffulettas in my day, but I can confirm that the ones being served at Sam’s are a must-try for Memphians. The Classic is the way to go. Weighing in at three pounds, the monster sub is loaded with ham, salami, and provolone over a homemade olive spread and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions on a warm sesame bun. And don’t forget to conclude your meal with a warm chocolate chip cookie made in-house. (There’s not really a point in saying in-house because, at Sam’s, everything is made in-house).
Food trumps everything at Sam’s, according to Shamira. The establishment has been exclusively family-run during its existence, as that has been the best way to ensure the restaurant steers clear of any shortcomings in its cuisine. And after sampling five menu items, I can assure you they are doing everything right. And if you weren’t sold yet, Sam’s is a deal. The restaurant supports all local colleges, offering 10% for students and faculty members at local Memphis colleges. In addition to that discount, Sam’s offers a free Grilled Cheese sandwich or chicken tenders with fries to kids under eight years old. The opportunities are endless at Sam’s, and every experience is different.
Pop into 643 S. Highland Street for a muffuletta, or a pizza, or a burger, or a bi bim bop. Whatever you want really.