In the heart of the Blacklands neighborhood on the eastside of downtown Austin is Sam's Barbeque, the quintessence of the gritty urban barbeque joint. Sam's has character to spare, but it's not just about atmosphere. They've earned the coverage they've gotten in newspapers and magazines all over the nation as one of Texas' best by offering some fine no-frills barbeque for more than 20 years.
I lived only a few blocks from Sam's for many years, so I'm intimately familiar with their offerings. We used to get take-out at least once a week when we lived in town, but since moving to the exurbs, my visits to Sam's have been infrequent. I did get back there recently for a late night flashback tour of their menu and a perfect opportunity to put together this review.
When you first approach it, even with a beautiful sunset behind it as shown above, Sam's is pretty unprepossessing. It's a small, old frame house with a single small room for diners, featuring two booths, a couple of tables and barely functioning air conditioning. The walls are papered with posters and photos of visiting celebrities and community notices and there's a TV in the corner with basketball constantly playing. Seating capacity is maybe 20 people, but when Sam's burnt down in 1992 they added an outside deck with a few picnic tables for overflow crowds. It looks like it's been there since the dawn of time. The walls are greasy, the windows are almost opaque, and there are ziplock bags full of water hanging in the windowframes which somehow magically repel flies. The neighborhood is terrible - though the Nation of Islam finally chased off the floating crapgame which had been at 12th and Chicon for years - so it's not surprising that space is limited since most of their business is takeout. The uninformed visitor would never guess that Sam's was one of the most famous barbeque joints in the nation unless they noticed all the yellowing clippings, grimy awards and glowing testimonials thumbtacked to the walls.