Samuel Horne’s Tavern: Respect the drink
Folsom, CA 95630
Samuel Horne’s Tavern is dark, loud and crowded—in a good way—even on a weeknight. No doubt, management is grateful, but the patrons of this Old Folsom bar appear equally enthused. Here, one is instructed to “Respect Sam” and “Respect beer.” There is a 100-mile happy-hour list featuring brewskies brewed within that radius. Think globally. Quaff locally.
To the right of the register of this narrow, wood-wainscoted establishment exists a wall of 16 small, square chalkboards touting what elixirs currently can be culled from the 16 taps below.
There’s Lagunitas, Allagash, Auburn, New Belgium, to name some—any number of stylish brews that both whet the whistle and sashay across the palate—to say nothing of the cornucopia of bottled varieties. Those manning the register are happy to suggest pairings with the comestibles offered along with all the potables. That inevitably leads into one of the most vexing foodilogical questions of the eons: What came first, the beer or the burgers? Is an establishment primarily a potables purveyor or is it cuisine-centric with, coincidentally, some of the most bitchin’ healing malt beverages around?
There isn’t going to be a deadlocked jury on this question when it comes to Sam’s. If the 100-mile happy hour isn’t dispositive, consider the seating provided by kegs with cushions atop them. To say nothing of the admonitions: “Respect what you drink.” “Don’t just drink beer.” “Keep it real.” Certainly the overheard commentary from the patrons regarding color, foam, nose and flavor nuances suggests the chief topic isn’t whether to go with the garlic cheese bread or the chili fries.
That said, Sam’s lacks the invention—and panache—of the kitchen at, say, The Golden Bear. But it does offer a few surprises among its largely standard bar food. While not necessarily the first choice to accompany the swilling of suds, the spinach salad has much to commend. In no particular order: dried cranberries, candied pecans, blue cheese, bacon, and a perky sweet-and-sour vinaigrette. For the extra $2, it’s worth substituting the salad for the ubiquitous fries accompanying sausage, dog and burger. Additionally, a salad substitution can at least partly assuage any guilt that might accrue from ordering the almost as imposing as its namesake Johnny Cash burger. A hefty patty with crisp bacon, cheddar, grilled onions and a punchy taste-the-bourbon BBQ sauce. It’s almost good enough to make one want to do it all over again. But that would only land a diner in the Fool’s Hall of Fame.
A flare-up of seemingly unquenchable hubris fuels the asking of management to spice up the already fairly caliente steak and peppers sandwich, which is a spirited twist on the ol’ Philly cheesesteak. Fire-roasted red peppers—swell. Caramelized onions—killer. Extra portion of hot red cherry peppers—incendiary. And not in a good way. Well-beyond five-alarm. More like standing under a Saturn V booster rocket at liftoff. Lesson learned.
On a subsequent visit, no additional warmth is sought on the Snow Cone, a hot link generously heaped with chili and topped with onions, cheddar and some of those devilish cherry peppers. It’s easy to quickly get the nomenclature behind the Cootie: a burger with pepper-jack cheese, pepperoncinis, a fried egg and spinach. Don’t bother with Listerine—skip ahead to Mr. Clean.
Sam’s is a cheery bar that was standing-room-only on several weeknight and weekend visits, but that can detract from the dining experience. So can the multiple—all sticky—glass rings on a table. The lack of napkins or utensils on one visit increased the challenge of consumption considerably.
Sam’s is also noisy, in part because it’s a long way to the multi-patterned beige ceramic ceiling. But as a base camp for exploring Old Folsom, taking the edge off a tedious workday or celebrating how truly great it is to be alive, Sam’s fits the bill.