It had never been about brisket.
Prior to 1992, the Prichard family business had everything to do with crab monsters, butcher-knife wielding slashers, or, in one case, murderous, rampaging tomatoes. It’s the same old story: Jim Prichard had spent three decades in the movie production and distribution game, populating theaters with as many low-budget creature features as he could wrap his hands around. He’d bring home uncut reels of slasher films, like Halloween, for an exclusive popcorn screening with his kids. Too much nudity or violence in the movie? No, this was the business he had chosen.
“When I say low-budget movies, I’m talking about bad movies,” Julie Prichard says. Jim, her husband, passed away months ago, and she sits in the dining room of her crowded barbecue joint. “Like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”
At this point, it feels like a safe assumption that Sammy’s Bar-B-Q might be the only family-owned barbecue joint where the family’s previous business experience centered around getting serial killer Michael Myers into more cities. But the brisket is killer.
This November, Sammy’s coasts into 27 years of dishing out old-school barbecue, and the barbecue — the brisket, the sausage and the homey sides — is better than ever. It’s char and smoke and creaminess. It’s also wonderfully inexpensive.
Every year, Jim Prichard would round up his high school buddies — the football crew he won a state championship with in 1957 — and they'd all eat his brisket together under one roof. As Prichard’s film business became less stable, his football buddies advised him to pick up a fork. They loved his barbecue meats, and they helped him finance the restaurant.
It wasn’t long before Julie Prichard waded into the storage room of 2126 Leonard St., in Uptown near the State Thomas neighborhood, and found a sign gathering dust: It read “Sammies Gro. Mkt.” and it had two vintage, giant Pepsi bottle caps bordering the words.
“It sounded so much more barbecue-y than Jim Prichard,” she says with a bright laugh.
To get the restaurant going, the Prichards yanked recipes like potato salad from their family history and wrapped themselves in aprons. Julie’s sister had a casserole trick that included pounding the leftovers of baked potatoes with a bunch of other goodies, which became the potato casserole you can, and should, still order today.
“I promise these are not the potatoes from yesterday,” Julie Prichard says with another laugh — it’s what she told customers who asked for the casserole recipe.
Nearly three decades later, there’s a line congesting near the entrance, and the dining room is thundering with conversation. It’s packed. I’m saddled up to a brisket sandwich, charred bark lining beautiful, fat-iridescent slices of beef. It’s tender, juicy and zapped with pickle and onion. It’s an affordable gem of a lunch. The Prichards' potato salad is an awe-inducing cloud: chopped potato, onion, celery and enough heaps of mayonnaise to induce a psychedelic experience make for one of the best barbecue sides in the vicinity.
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And their menu hasn’t budged since opening. It’s a blast of fresh air. There’s no challenge food on the board, and there’s no State Fair-competing deep fried creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s just family barbecue, served the way the Prichards would do it for a gathering of old friends.
On a recent visit, his restaurant booming, Marshall Prichard plops down with a cold beer around noon. In the past few years, he has upgraded the quality of his beef and worked with his pitmaster to fine-tune the brisket.
“I’ll do a smoked salmon every once and a while,” he says.
You must admire a barbecue joint where salmon is considered branching out. Once, as he tells it, he added cushions to the chairs behind the bar, and his sisters “staged a revolt.” A little salmon and a cushion or two is about all the fluff they are willing to withstand. If anything, the restaurant’s gotten leaner and tastier.
Sammy's Bar-B-Q, 2126 Leonard St.