Our Rating  

Samuel's Bar and Grill
1160 Forest Ave

Three and 1/2 plates  
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Samuel's Bar and Grill Reviewed: Summer, 2004

Note: Since this review was written, we have gone back to sample the dinner specials and Samuel's is well-deserved of a new and improved review. Stay tuned.

This past spring a colleague of mine raved about Samuel's Bar and Grill boasting that they serve the best food and are the best kept secret in Portland. I felt it only appropriate to look into this matter further. Although we did not have the opportunity to sample the daily dinner specials, which are only offered Wednesday through Saturday, and which my friend so strongly recommended, we did have a great experience in this small, friendly neighborhood establishment.

I had no idea what to expect of Samuel's before going there. From the outside, the brick building, with a large mural of a black and white dog drinking out of a beer mug on the outside, looks like your typical every day run of the mill bar, nothing special. But from what my acquaintance had described to me, the fresh pasta dishes, great atmosphere, it sounded more like a casual restaurant of the Katahdin type. My dining friend for the evening and I drove out to the slightly out-of-the way Forest Avenue location and parked in the lot next door. We really couldn't tell if we were allowed to park there or not, but there were tons of other cars full of people unloading into Samuel's as well so we took our chances.

The place was packed. It was Monday, two for one pizza night. Every table was filled with laughing, jolly patrons, huge parties and small groups of people of all types and ages eating, drinking and just having a great time. People waited at and near the bar passing pizzas and drinking cheap Sam Adams and Absolut lemonades ($4). The walls of the one room are lined with sports paraphernalia. TV's reside in three upper corners showing various sporting events. Drink specials are displayed behind the bar as well as a printed apology to take-out customers for the recent cease in take-out service from 7-9 on weekends due to overwhelming orders. The bar was loud and smoky, but had a real down to earth local feel to it. It's the kind of place a fifty or sixty something guy might go every night for a brewski or a Manhattan, shoot the you-know-what with the same old fellas at the bar, eat good food, watch a ball game and flirt with the familiar witty waitresses. But it was totally full to the brim with people!

We quietly stood off to the side to wait for a table, feeling sort of like we had just walked into the middle of a private party, when suddenly a stranger came up and told us there were two seats at the end of the bar if we wanted them. As we made our way through the lively crowd, we realized that this generous gentleman was giving up his own seat, so that we could have two together. He stood next to us and finished his drink before departing. It is a rarity to find such an amiable personality that would sacrifice a coveted seat at the bar for the comfort of two newbies. It set a great overall feeling of welcomeness for the remainder of the evening.

We were immediately greeted by Sam, the bartender. We ordered $1.75 Allaghash White and Sam Adams 12 oz. drafts and he gave us a couple of menus to peruse. As I mentioned before, it was pizza night, and everyone and their mother was taking advantage of it. Every two seconds two delicious 12 inch pizzas floated under our noses with amazing looking personalized toppings like sun dried tomatoes, spinach, sausage, tons of melted cheese, bacon, hamburger, green peppers, pepperoni and more. I have no idea what persuaded us to both opt against the pizza deal that night. Perhaps the subconscious idea that we knew we'd be back again sometime. But in any case I couldn't resist ordering something else tasty from the menu for our first try.

We threw around the thought of ordering some munchies before dinner tempted by the great selection of greasy bar-type snacks: French fries ($1.50), coleslaw ($1.00), potato skins with various topping choices ($4.75-$5.95), buffalo wings ($6.75 or $11.95 for a double order), jalapeno poppers ($5.25), and single clam cakes ($1.25) among the list. But we soon decided to get two split-able entrees instead.

Skipping right over the seven or eight salad selections, I imagined biting into a big juicy 1/3 lb. Cheddarburger ($4.50) or the savory flavor of a crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich ($5.25), finally deciding on a Meatball Sandwich with Cheese ($4.75), something I haven't eaten in years. I could have gone for any one of the various other sandwiches too or regular entrees like the Grilled Chicken Dinner or the Chopped Sirloin Dinner, 2 five-ounce patties served with French fries, coleslaw and bread or pasta and bread ($6.75) or the Linguini with Italian Sausage ($6.95). I was also tempted at the prospect of a calzone filled with any one to four of those tasty looking toppings from the pizzas. But my meatball sandwich turned out to be the perfect choice! In the ten minutes that we waited for our food to arrive, Sam offered us two more beers and laid out place settings of paper napkins and silverware for each of us. Despite the extreme busyness of the wait and kitchen staff, our food arrived piping hot and very promptly. My sandwich was huge! A large foot long fresh sub roll stuffed with five or six soft tasty 2-inch meatballs smothered in warm tomato sauce and a thick blanket of melted mozzarella. I had to eat it with my fork and knife due to the size and quantity but it was delicious. I had ordered French fries to replace the complimentary chips for 95 cents. They were like the kind of fries you get from the fried dough vendor at a fair, soft and oily, and a huge portion. I noticed in a cabinet along the wall a bunch of plastic bottles of vinegar which I can only imagine must be for the fries. They are definitely the salt and vinegar type. I could have gotten fried onions or fried mushrooms on the side for 50 cents a pop but I had enough food to feed two people already!

wheelchair accessible
vegetarian selections
vegan selections  
most credit cards accepted
My friend had selected from the extensive list of nachos, which included everything from plain chips and salsa ($3.50) to Loaded Nachos ($7.25) to the innovative Irish ($4.75) or Italian Nachos ($7.25), an order of Veggie Nachos ($5.95) for his meal. These too were an amazingly mountainous portion of thin crispy yellow tortilla chips topped with freshly diced green peppers, onions, tomatoes and tons of melted cheddar. Two large tubs of sour cream and salsa came on the side for dipping or to add to the mix at the diner's discretion. Between the two of us, we managed to happily polish off both our meals. And the best part was the price: our whole dinner came to $19.95 including both meals and two beers a piece. I did not notice any dessert options on the menu and didn't think to ask either so I can't say how Sam's rates in the sweets department. As we were leaving, boisterous patrons were spilling out onto the sidewalk as they waited for tables to enjoy another great meal at Samuel's.

Although we both enjoyed Samuel's Bar and Grill I still feel as though we need to return on a Wednesday through Saturday night for the dinner specials and at least that amazing Monday and Tuesday night pizza deal. They also have the 2 for 1 pizzas every night from 11pm-1am. Samuel's is open every day, including Sundays for eat in or take out (with the exception of the aforementioned 7-9pm on Fridays and Saturdays when they briefly halt take out orders until after the dinner rush). Be prepared to wait for a table though, because Samuel's Bar & Grill is very popular for good reason: great food, wicked cheap prices, and friendly atmosphere.  back to the top


Tracy B. Wheeler is a classical flutist and freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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