Samuel’s – An Exceptionally Popular Neighborhood Locale

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After recently visiting their brand new sister location, I thought I needed to head to the well-established Samuel’s on Forest Ave. I had heard various bits of information about the bar and restaurant mostly focused around it being popular and divey. I figured it was busy when we got there because I couldn’t find a space in their lot and there was limited street parking remaining. After a thorough search, we finally found a spot and walked through cold air until we made our entrance.

When we opened the door and walked in, everything I had heard was confirmed; it was exceptionally busy with hardly room to move. Only the two tables closest to the door were available, so we snagged one of them. The place was nice for a neighborhood bar and it was clear that everyone there knew each other and had been going for years. It immediately seemed like a cozy, fun location. There were a lot of people drinking, laughing, and essentially acting as through they were right at home. When the waitress approached, we asked for waters and told her that we weren’t ready for anything else quite yet.

Our waters arrived and we inquired about the available beverages. My wife ended up ordering a Woodchuck Cider; I finally decided on a Shipyard Prelude Special Ale. As we scanned the menu following our drink orders, I was thoroughly stumped. The food was pretty much exactly what I expected from Samuel’s, but I had no proclivity toward anything in particular. They had a couple two for one dinner specials that looked appealing, but I would have had to eat them both since the wife wasn’t interested in either. I considered nachos or wings for a starter, but then had to decide between pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees. There were some soups and salads on the menu too, but it wasn’t that type of night.

With a little convincing, Mrs. Portlandeater agreed to share an order of the Boneless Sweet Thai Chili Wings and we put that in when we got our drinks. I sipped my beer which was dark, full-bodied, heavy, and delicious. As I did so, I continued to contemplate what I wanted to eat. I ruled out chicken beyond the wings, fish, and then pizza, leaving me at the BBQ Bacon Burger – BBQ sauce, bacon, and cheddar with choice of fries or chips. I went with the latter. She went with the Tuna Sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo – and sweet potato fries for an upcharge.

We received our wings pretty quickly which was quite surprising considering how packed the place was and how few staff members appeared to be working. Nonetheless, everyone else seemed to be getting speedy service too. The waitress didn’t ask if we wanted blue cheese or ranch for the wings and ended up bringing out both for us. The ranch was in a prepackaged container, and I assumed the blue cheese was made pre-made too. The wings looked appealing and came with the traditional carrots and celery. I also noted that for the price, there were a lot of wings in our basket.

Upon trying the chicken flappers, I found them to be particularly tender. The sauce was good, but pretty much the standard Thai chili. The blue cheese dressing was very good like one of the better store bought brands, but the ranch was not particularly tasty. Overall, the wings were solid, as I do love me tender wings, but the sauce was neither exceptionally sweet nor spicy. They were flavored best with a dip into the blue cheese. We ate them all and I even dug into the carrots and celery a bit before I remembered that it wasn’t a veggie night.

As we waited for our main courses, I continued quietly observing the crowd of people constantly entering the restaurant. There were at least two parties waiting for a table with all the bar seats filled and plenty of people standing around them. The place was full and customers were still coming in consistently. The wait staff continued to have everything under control even as they struggled to sneak by people who were gathering at the tables and crowding the walking paths.

Before too long we were greeted by the rest of the food we had ordered. I tried the burger and noted a basic barbeque sauce I thought was most likely store-bought. It reminded me of Sweet Baby Ray’s which wasn’t awful. The burger was perfectly well done, just as I ordered it and the bun was perfectly toasted. I  felt that the overall burger was good, but relatively run-of-the-mill. However, the chef definitely did the best he could with what he had to work with that evening. If I was going to get somewhat standard food, I hoped that it was cooked correctly, and there’s no doubt it was all the way around. My wife was pleased with her tuna sandwich and I tried it to see how it was. It pretty much matched my feelings about the burger – good, but not a standout performer.

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We finished eating and paid our bill which I believe was somewhere around $40 buck before tip. It wasn’t pricey, but the food didn’t distinguish itself in selection or quality. Nonetheless, it wasn’t bad and was pretty much what one would expect from a neighborhood location outside of Portland. Inside Portland, I tend to expect a little more pizzazz. If Samuel’s made their own sauces, that alone might do the trick. However, they present an interesting juxtaposition between a location which is really fun to be at and one which doesn’t necessarily offer food that someone would go out of their way to eat. Would I go back? Yeah, I would. I wouldn’t go just for the food, but if I was already there having drinks, I wouldn’t avoid it either.

Stay hungry.

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