2126 Leonard St.
Dude Factor: 4 (figure skating) on a scale of 1 (opening ceremony background dancing) to 10 (biathlon)
A buddy's birthday lunch provided the occasion for a small invasion of a barbecue joint last week, and we settled on Sammy's Bar-B-Q. It's a well-hidden spot along the Maple-Routh Connection, and it must get by on repeat customers and word of mouth because it's damn near impossible to spot from the road. It's got two roadside signs planted in the ground, and they're each about three inches tall.
The rich, smoky smell outside Sammy's was promising, the patio was packed with professional types soaking up some vitamin D on their lunch hour (there was a time not so long ago when the sun came out), and the inside was full of rusted-out rural-looking flair. The jukebox and the metal signs had obviously done their rusting before they reached Sammy's, but the cafeteria-style ordering and the checkered vinyl tablecloths give the place some honest western cred.
A signed photo of Rick Perry on the wall hangs right next to one of Dallas-born Burton Gilliam in Blazing Saddles, and neither one looks out of place in Sammy's. There's also a framed newspaper story about an okra shortage on the wall, though, so it's probably not worth reading too much into their decorations.
It's just that there's less to say about the food than about that yellowed old okra story on the wall. You know what you're looking for when you step into a barbecue joint, and the smoky air outside promised big things. Not sure where they put the rest of that smoke flavor, because none of it found the brisket.
Plenty of people swear by the place from what I've heard, and judging by the Friends of Sammy hanging on the wall, there could be trouble for me repeating what was in my head when I took a bite of my uniformly light-brown chopped beef lunch: If that meat were a fat mob actor, it'd be Marlon Blando. If this brisket was a mayor of Cloud City it'd be Blando Calrissian, shunned as a traitor by his friends for its lack of a smoke ring.
Most of our group got the sliced beef, and the mixed reactions were so-so at best. The one of us who ordered the chicken wasn't nearly so down on the place, but the consensus was that with the tucked-away location, huge patio and the all-around inviting feel at Sammy's, the meat made this a missed opportunity. (Just to be sure, I went back a few days later for a pulled pork sandwich that, once the meat was pulled out of its plastic wrap and chopped up, was about as low on flavor as the beef, and tougher too.)
Rescuing the lunch took a heavy dose of barbecue sauce, which Sammy's keeps in bottles sitting in warm water by the Coke machine. Having that pre-warmed barbecue sauce was a nice touch, and so was the seasoning sprinkled onto a huge two-dollar side order of French fries.
The idea was to make this a low-key birthday celebration to get a friend out of the office for an hour on the day he turned 35. A side of beans was soupy and missing any spice, and, as one of my lunchmates commented, really could have used the extra flavor a few chunks of brisket or bacon would've added. Even if he has to show up at the office on his birthday, if nothing else, a guy should be able to get some bacon with his beans.
The mound of fries was about the only food that made a ripple in the conversation. With ESPN's midday Olympics recap on TV, the conversation even settled on men's figure skating, of all things (and the time when comparing something to either Elvis Stojko or Scott Hamilton told you all you need to know about it) before anyone thought to discuss the food.
None of us tried the fried okra, and I can't vouch for the turkey or the sausage here. But where Dr. Bell's came across as a kind of solitary white-collar barbecue retreat -- the kind of place you come alone or in small groups to enjoy the food and avoid the workday -- Sammy's seems like the kind of place where business gets done over lunch, and nobody talks much about the food.