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Maryland's John Tillman and Georgetown's Kevin Warne are both vying for reservations at Vincent's Clam Bar.

Why Lacrosse Coaches Fight for Reservations at These Popular Italian Spots

May 18, 2024
Patrick Stevens
John Strohsacker, Rich Barnes

Maryland coach John Tillman and his old coordinator, Georgetown coach Kevin Warne, still talk all the time. They did so again after Warne’s Hoyas rallied past Penn State on the second day of the NCAA tournament’s first round.

Tillman’s Terrapins advanced the night before, with both teams funneled into a quarterfinal at Hofstra. And while the two teams’ potential postseason meeting doesn’t come until Memorial Day, they were competing for something nearly as important on Long Island: A dinner reservation.

It didn’t take long for Warne to bring up Vincent’s Clam Bar, a longtime go-to spot from his playing days at Hofstra — or for Tillman to box in his friend’s plans.

“He was like, ‘We’re going to go Thursday or Friday,’” Tillman said. “I go, ‘We’re going Thursday, you guys go Friday.’”

There was a similar dash to find a way into an establishment a little more than 200 miles to the south. With Towson hosting a quarterfinal on Sunday — the first time the second weekend of the tournament has landed inside the Baltimore Beltway since 2006 — that meant another restaurant with strong lacrosse ties was about to get a call.

Actually, Sammy’s Trattoria was going to get three calls.

“There’s no doubt we’re all fighting for that prime 7 o’clock dinner slot,” Denver coach Matt Brown said.

An outside look at Sammy's Trattoria in Baltimore.
Sammy's Trattoria in the Mount Vernon community of Baltimore is a popular dinner spot for locals and lacrosse teams.

WHILE DENVER AND VIRGINIA WILL BE EATING WELL SATURDAY NIGHT, the program most associated with Sammy’s — and especially its Mount Vernon location on North Charles Street — is Johns Hopkins.

Much of that was tied to the relationship between former Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala and owner Sammy Curreri. The brand loyalty was strong throughout the Hopkins family; moments after Kevin Conry led Michigan to its first-ever victory over the Blue Jays in 2021, the 2004 Hopkins grad was already gleefully looking forward to a chicken parm from Sammy’s as the postgame meal.

John Crawley has found a way back to Sammy’s frequently over the last decade. He played at Hopkins from 2014-17. When he was in the Premier Lacrosse League and the league made its stop in Baltimore? He asked Sammy’s to cater a meal for teammates. And when he had his engagement party a couple months ago? It was obvious who was getting the call.

Now the Blue Jays’ offensive coordinator, Crawley credits a welcoming, familiar environment that makes a trip feel like home.

“I know for me, spending four years at Hopkins, you’re there for every pregame meal,” Crawley said. “My graduation dinner was at Sammy’s, and Sammy was at the table eating with us, not just serving. He’s been a big part of my life and everybody I played with, and that continued. So, it does certainly start with the people. The other side of it is the food is awesome. I can’t speak for everybody, but I would go twice a week if I could and wouldn’t just completely blow up. It’s so good.”

While the Hopkins tradition continues — even with a recently added twist of the “senior speech,” in which one senior gives an often-emotional talk but also gets to select the menu, much like the champions dinner at the Masters golf tournament — the lacrosse world is a relatively small place. Plus, a second location, Sammy’s II, is open in Hunt Valley, a suburb north of Baltimore.

That’s where Virginia had its pregame meal before playing at Towson in March. The only reason the Cavaliers won’t return to the restaurant this weekend is a player’s family volunteered to host the team — with Sammy’s catering the meal, naturally.

“Just a family style way of serving food and portions,” Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said. “We’re trying to feed big men a lot of food fast, and they know their business, that’s for sure.”

Denver midfielder Jack Tortolani’s family offered to host the Pioneers for dinner when they came to Baltimore to scrimmage Hopkins before last season. The Tortolanis and Curreri were once neighbors, and when Sammy’s did takeout during the pandemic, the Tortolanis were frequent customers. Tortolani’s mother also used Sammy’s as a catering option for her work.

One experience was enough to hook the Pioneers. This weekend marks Denver’s fourth Sammy’s trip of the season — before a January scrimmage at Navy, as well as when it played at Hopkins in February and met Duke in Severn, Md., in March.

“The chicken parm, the pasta, the bread, the service, it’s all perfect,” said Tortolani, who lavished particular praise on the vodka sauce. “They all know how to have the whole team there. It’s something we’re excited for to the point now that Coach Brown will tell us at the beginning of the week, we’re traveling in, we got Sammy’s on this night, just letting the whole team know because everyone’s just waiting for it. Guys are always asking me about it.”

Crawley has his own favorites. He likes to start with the Julia salad (“Probably because it’s sopped in oil and cheese and it’s not the healthiest salad,” he said), and he recommends Stanwick’s crab toast as an appetizer. And while a fan of the chicken parm, he often opts for the chicken Milanese — a breaded cutlet with arugula overtop — plus a side of rigatoni alla vodka.

It’s become so popular that Crawley, a former Lehigh assistant, expected to run into the Mountain Hawks during Hopkins’ pregame meal last Saturday. It turns out Lehigh ate at the other location.

“I think it’s much more publicized now,” Crawley said. “It’s kind of like the secret that’s got let loose in a lot of ways. Every team that travels to Baltimore, it seems like they’re at Sammy’s, and for good reason.”

It seems unlikely to change, given how embedded it is now in Baltimore’s lacrosse culture.

“What a great guy and how supportive he is of lacrosse,” Brown said. “You never used to be able to get into Sammy’s because it was only reserved for Hopkins, but now it seems like he’s opened the door, and everybody wants to be there.”

An outside look at Vincent's Clam Bar in Carle Place, N.Y.
Maryland coach John Tillman and Georgetown coach Kevin Warne playfully fought for reservations at Vincent's Clam Bar this weekend.

Graham Bundy Jr. repeated the question before breaking into a wide smile.

Does he hype it up?” the Georgetown midfielder said incredulously. “There’s a lot of ways you can motivate our group, and I think a lot of our guys have internal motivation. But when Coach Warne’s coming in on Monday like, ‘I wanna go to Vinny’s next week,’ it’s like, ‘Let’s get the fella some Vinny’s.’ That was one of our points of emphasis, trying to make sure we got a reservation there at Vincent’s and took care of business last week.”

Warne is an unabashed advocate of Vincent’s Clam Bar in Carle Place, N.Y., just four miles and three exits up the Meadowbrook State Parkway from Hofstra. He had team meals there when he played for the Pride, and he still has tomato sauce from the restaurant delivered to his home every few weeks.

Any trip back to Long Island means a team meal at Vincent’s for the Hoyas.

“I think everybody knows about it,” Warne said. “Hofstra does an awesome job hosting [quarterfinals], and just the accessibility of that. The cool thing is a lot of the seats and booths will have a little plaque of who sat there and who visited. It’s kind of cool when you walk in just to see a lot of people who are a lot more famous than me and you walking in there.”

The Hoyas rolled in just after 5 p.m. on Friday, with players occupying three long tables and the rest of the traveling party at a few side tables. A parade of servers began delivering bread almost immediately, and the procession of food didn’t slow down.

A little more than 90 minutes later, dozens of players walked out happy.

“We talk about it,” said Warne, whose go-to order is shrimp parm with medium sausage and rigatoni, plus a side of shrimp balls and a garlic knot. “The ambience there is cool. It’s a cool place. There’s a lot going on. Everything’s 100 miles an hour, and they do an awesome job. They can shuffle teams in and out in like 30 minutes — ‘Here you go, here you go.’ It’s good food and guys gets to hang out.”

Tillman recalls going to Vincent’s for the first time when he was an assistant at Navy under Long Island native Richie Meade. Back in 2014, he made two stops during one quarterfinal weekend — for a meal a night or two before the game, and then again when he remained on Long Island an extra night after scouting the Notre Dame-Albany game that followed Maryland’s defeat of Bryant.

So, it couldn’t have been a huge surprise when, as Tillman walked toward the stands last weekend after Maryland routed Princeton and spotted former Navy long pole and Maryland director of lacrosse operations Zack Schroeder, the first thing he heard was, “Oh, Vincent’s!”

There wasn’t time to waste to land a primo reservation.

“You end up being this advocate for them because it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re going to play at Hofstra — you gotta go,’” Tillman said. “That’s just how people are. You know you’ll have a great experience. These are fun things the kids remember, too. They talk about it.

“When you’re talking about 18-22-year-olds, if they have a good experience where they’re eating, they’re pretty darn happy and they remember it. They’re usually not eating that well when they’re in college. Usually, it’s Chipotle or something like that. In lacrosse, it’s such a small community, you always feel compelled to take care of the people who take care of you.”