The Name of the Game in Houston

Sammy's Camel Burger
Sammy’s Camel Burger

The Lone Star State has long been considered a place in which to indulge your wild side, and one notable Texas establishment wants you to do so especially at mealtime.  For two years and counting, Sammy’s Wild Game Grill of Houston has been serving distinct burgers, sandwiches, dogs and salads to much acclaim in the local dining community.

The brainchild of Spanish-born chef Samuel Ballarin, Sammy’s Wild Game Grill fills a much mourned lacuna in the city’s restaurant scene left by the closure and prolonged renovations of Moontower Inn, that was popular for its unusual “meat dawgs” and sausages. Houstonians who missed Moontower’s venison and buffalo hot dogs found superior replacements and more at Sammy’s, which is keen to push the boundaries on “domestic” fare.

Just how outlandish is Sammy’s fare? Actually, not at all if you have an appreciation for or interest in consuming hoofed animals other than cows. Burger meat options include antelope, water buffalo, camel, llama and venison as well as an Angus beef for traditionalists.  The camel burger is particularly popular; for despite its low fat content, the meat is outrageously juicy with a peppery-sweet flavor that pairs well with a creamy coating of cilantro mayonnaise and a crown of cheddar cheese. If you can’t bear to choose between game meats, Sammy’s conveniently offers a mixed triplet of sliders.  Standard sides such as fries (regular and sweet potato) and onion rings are available for all burgers, but you’re at Sammy’s to buck convention, so team up with a friend to tackle the chili fries topped with python meat.

Sammy's Pheasant Dog
Sammy’s Pheasant Dog

“Sausage” is too pedestrian a descriptor for Sammy’s overstuffed spheres of seasoned buffalo, venison and pheasant meats that threaten to burst out of their casings.  Like the burgers, all wild game sausages are served on locally made pretzel rolls whose soft savory dough makes regular old white bread buns seem, well, too tame. The chef’s favorite dog (and mine, too) is the pheasant, which boasts a uniquely earthy savory flavor well complemented by vibrant toppings (you get three free!) such as sauerkraut, jalapeno ketchup, fried or fresh onions, bacon, feta cheese or relish.

While the meats are more exotic at Sammy’s, preparation techniques stay close to home, especially with their house favorite–wild boar sandwich.  All the familiar tangy, smoky-sweet flavors of traditional Southern pulled pork are present, but with deeper, fattier porcine notes. A hearty scoop of apple coleslaw and a dusting of fried onion strings add a lovely botanical crunch to an otherwise wonderfully soft, sloppy sandwich.

Sammy’s salads also appropriately utilize safari fare such that vegetables become a pleasant afterthought. Crisp lettuce, blood-red tomatoes and tangy onions are but resting base for sizeable portions of your choice of elk, lamb, buffalo, ostrich, antelope or kangaroo meat.

Even with dessert, Sammy’s Wild Game Grill proves that sweet isn’t necessarily effete.  Chef Ballarin’s homemade, small-batch Guinness cupcakes topped with Bailey’s-

Guinness Cupcakes
Guinness Cupcakes

infused frosting are the perfect adults-only ending to a powerhouse meal.  Have more than two, though, and you may have to hand over the keys.  And, by the way, baked goods aren’t the only means by which to get a buzz at Sammy’s, which offers an expansive beer and wine list as well as select liquors.  But don’t drink your (whole) dinner.  At Sammy’s solid game is the way to go.– Joanna O’Leary

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