Stay classy, meat men
Sam’s Hof Brau
Hof Brau2100 Fifth Ave.
Oroville, CA 95965
At the end of June, an item burbled up in my Facebook feed to much consternation and commenting. There was to be an ownership change at Sam’s Hof Brau, and I glimpsed the word “closing.” My heart raced as I scanned the lines—phew! Only closing for one day and, even better, ownership was being resumed by the kin of the founder, Sam Gordon. And they were keeping two longtime managers and promising not to change anything.
They were saying the right things, but could I trust it? Could the millennial great-grandson resist the urge to strew mini succulents between the pots of horseradish and mustard on the tables, or dangle Edison bulbs over the long wooden bar with its affordable taps of crisp German lagers and pilsners served in frosty steins? More importantly, what about the food? Will it still be all brown and covered in gravy—in other words, Instagram kryptonite?
I can happily report back that nothing seems to have changed. One still enters with a line, especially during the early evening hours that the largely white-haired clientele favor for dinner. Servers in tall white hats still sweat under hot lights and carve roast beef, prime rib, tri-tip and other meats to order—“extra cut” portions cost about a buck more. The pickles are still free.
The French dip “sam’wich” ($9.29) boasts an extra cut of rare roast beef on Sam’s signature hefty Kaiser roll, which stands up to a dunk in the deep, rich au jus. A melting cut of prime rib ($15.99) is rimmed by fat and best slathered in horseradish with sides of crusty stuffing and crisp coleslaw.
On one visit a meat man urges me to try the turkey pot pie ($7.49, with side) fresh out of the oven, and it’s so perfectly flaky and savory that I burn my mouth over and over (and over) because I don’t have the patience to let it cool down before taking the next bite of this ne plus ultra of pot pies.
A holiday season special of teriyaki turkey wings ($4.39) is so tender that it falls apart when I try to pass it to a dining companion, the better to keep the whole, sweet-glazed portion for myself.
It’s not all gravy. The Reuben ($9.89) suffers from the use of processed white cheese rather than Swiss. Get it with the tender pastrami rather than the springy corned beef, with an optional side of Thousand Island to inch it closer to authentic. Quite a few of the sides ($2.19) disappoint, especially the baked beans that seem straight out of the can, and the potato and macaroni salads are really grandma-style in the sense that mine used overly sweet Miracle Whip in everything.
Newer restaurateurs such as Mike Thiemann (Empress) and Tom Schnetz (Oakhaus) give props to Sam’s as an inspiration behind their modern carveries, and rightfully so. In these fast-changing times, it’s these few remaining old-school spots that remind us of our culinary history—Los Angeles has Phillipe’s, San Francisco has Tommy’s Joynt and we have Sam’s. I hope to still be frequenting Sam’s when I’m accessorizing with a walker and puffy white shoes.