Having said just the other day that I'd never been to Sam's Burger Joint, I stand corrected: I did go, once, maybe a couple of years ago. I had only a few bucks on me and the only thing on the menu I could afford was the chopped barbecue brisket sandwich, which I had, and which, I swear to God, was exactly the same flavour I used to get in elementary school when they served barbecue sandwiches. I mean exactly. And while that may be a good thing, memory-wise (depending on one's primary-school experiences), it's not an impressive thing, food-wise.
So. Having mentioned Sam's the other day in the same breath with other reputable burger places near downtown, it was on my mind while we were deciding where to have lunch today, me and two friends. One, Rick, had been there a number of times; the other, Peter, had never been.
Sam's sits in a triangle of land between Broadway and 281 on Grayson Street. It's still a somewhat seedy area, despite the recent re-development of the Pearl Brewery just beyond the freeway underpass. Still, it's not an area that feels unsafe during lunch hours. There's a vacant lot across the street, and a new-ish office building across the other street, and the freeway behind. Parking is on the street (some metered, some not) or under the freeway.
Rick had the bacon-swiss chicken sandwich, which he has decided is his favourite item on Sam's menu. He finds that the seasoning mix they use is somehow special, in a good way, though he can't say exactly why. He reports the chicken to be well-cooked, neither dry nor underdone, and the bacon to be crisp.
Peter went with the barbecue sandwich, and agreed that, yes, it was just like what the school cafeteria served when he was a kid. I put it to him like this: on a scale of one to five, where one is "I wouldn't put this in my mouth again" and five is "I can't live without this." He gave it "four, maybe three." I take that as a reluctant 3½. I put the same scale to Rick, and he went with a solid 4 for the chicken sandwich.
Myself, I had the "old fashioned" with cheese, a standard hamburger. I'll give it a 3, though to be honest it may not be even that good. It's not as good as anything I've had at Fatty's, nor Beefy's Back Yard, nor Armadillo, nor Timbo's. It would not have been permitted on the same late-night talk show with the burgers we used to get at Little Hipps. The bun, other than having the restaurant's name branded on it, was unremarkable; the meat, though plentiful, was overcooked; and the cheese had a distinctly cheap flavour to it.
We all had fries with our sandwiches, which were a more solid "pretty good," that is, a 3½.
Sam's has a music hall out back, not an overly large place, but I understand it's popular with aficionados of the live-music scene here in town. Maybe that's what keeps Sam's in business.