Food & Drink Burger and a side of ham

Giddy with grease and Comedia A Go-Go at Sam’s Burger Joint

Sometimes critics get cravings, a sudden desire for seared foie gras draped over mashed potatoes spiked with celeriac, or slabs of rare tuna served in a seafood broth studded with clams and shrimp. But there’s also the odd urge for a pizza that’s never known goat cheese or a burger without any tony trappings. Sam’s Burger Joint happened to be nearby when those basic cravings kicked in on a recent weekday.

Server Jessica Lozano shows off a cheddar burger and a small side of onion rings at Sam's Burger Joint. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Sam’s is a strange place at lunch. Actually, Sam’s is a strange place at any time: An elk head presides over a suspended bicycle, beer signs, and license plates bearing slogans such as Z Wild 1, Hel Yea, and U Want 2 — it’s basic grunge supplemented by a sticky component (at least it was at my table).

Sitting among the flotsam and jetsam, I saw Fort Sam sorts in fatigues, suits with badges and guns, one of local TV’s talking heads, a Medicare-age drugstore cowboy, and a grease monkey streaked with actual grease. These burgers, I reasoned, had to have universal appeal. So I ordered the Old Fashioned half-pounder and sat down to wait. And wait. A Dr. Pepper, a root beer, and 30 minutes later, the waiter finally called my name. Must have had a hard time rustlin’ up the buns in order to brand ’em.

The bun, nicely toasted, was the best part of the package. Beneath a layer of chopped lettuce, sliced tomato, and all the usual trimmings, there was a big ol’ beef patty — flat and, if not altogether flavorless, then at least not notably savory. And not very warm, either. The accompanying onion rings looked appealing in their rough-and-ready coating, but they also glistened with grease. The Exxon oil slick they left behind on the platter diminished the rings’ handmade look and flavor.

Sam’s Burger Joint

330 E. Grayson
Kitchen hours:
11am-11pm Mon-Thu,
Fri & Sat
Price Range: $3-7
Credit cards
Wheelchair accessible

But Sam’s is also about evening entertainment, so I called a music-scene savvy friend. “Oh,” he replied, “you want a bodyguard.” Well, sort of. He informed me that we had just missed a great blues singer from Brazil, and recommended we check out Comedia A Go-Go. Not that safety in numbers was needed, but our group grew and we had to fight for space in the crowded restaurant before the performance.

Sam’s seems a lot less artificially atmospheric at night when it’s back-to-back bodies and buzzing with conversation. Strangely, the service was quicker, too, and the food tasted better. The fried mushrooms, beautifully battered and alive with earthy flavor, were likely the best I’ve had in town, and the onion rings weren’t nearly so giddy with grease. The fries were only ordinary, but a burger ordered with cheddar and bacon was far more rewarding than the Old Fashioned, the accessories adding the necessary fat and flavor. I’m told that the chicken tenders were well worth eating, too — apparently, since I missed out on them altogether. (With some groups, if you snooze, you lose.) But I did get to the honorable chicken nachos, made more luxurious by a very fresh add-it-yourself guacamole. More moist chicken, slathered with guac and jack cheese, made for a sandwich that was tastier than either of the burgers. This I would order again, I mused, as I watched everything disappear. Everything, that is, but the Wings o’ Caliente. “Too sour,” chimed the crowd, critics all. I had to agree, even though the blue cheese dip smoothed out the excessive vinegar.

As for Comedia A Go-Go, they are a talented lot. A “Wetback Mountain” skit about two mojados craving more than tacos had its moments, but when they began to riff on video games, they lost me. Burgers may have universal appeal, but, alas, it’s best to admit some stuff is generational. Fun factoid from Sam’s music calendar: “A pound of grasshoppers is three times as nutritious as a pound of beef!!” Probably three times tastier, too.


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