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The Foodie Column

Leavin' on a Steak Plane

At just a few hundred yards away from the airport entrance, most diners suspect that Sam Snead’s Oak Grill & Tavern is like every other generic eatery catering to weary business travelers and passengers waiting for a plane.

But once inside, the dark wood paneling, golf memorabilia and low-key lighting is what every golf club restaurant designer should aspire to — an elegant, comfortable and relaxing atmosphere. And the experience, at least at dinner, went far beyond my expectations in terms of quality to value, attention to detail and service.

My guests and I gave the menu a workout, beginning with the Tavern Flatbread — a nearly two foot–long whole wheat pizza — ours topped with chicken, Mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

For three of us the flatbread was just the right size to quell our appetites while we continued to read the menu. Along the way we learned that every sauce, dressing and topping is made in–house — a pretty impressive accomplishment by most standards. The flatbread, which was hot and married together a pleasing array of flavors certainly set the tone.

I knew I was eating a steak and went old–school with the salad: An iceberg lettuce wedge with blue cheese dressing. Again, the dish over delivers with nearly a third of head of lettuce, blue cheese crumbles in addition to creamy blue cheese and an ample sprinkling of crunchy, smoky bacon and diced tomato.

I could have, should have, stopped there. That was plenty. Oh, the sacrifices...

There are three sizes of grilled filet mignon: 7 ounces, 10 ounces and a 5–ouncer that can be paired with a variety of other proteins. I chose the 5–ounce, medium rare, with a crab cake.

I passed on the sauteed mushroom topping on the steak, wanting to get every nuance from the Black Angus filet. The temperature was right on the mark — a cool, red center — and the meat was blessedly not over–seasoned. The accompanying crab cake was chock full of white lump crab and seasoned just right.

One of my guests, who had been craving prime rib, chose the special and loved her prime rib. The other went bar food casual, choosing fish and chips. The batter was crispy, the white fish hot and moist. We shared desserts: a commercially made Jack Daniel’s chocolate cake and a housemade coconut cream pie that was as good as any grandma would make.

I chose Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon form an extensive wine–by–the–glass list, one of my friends opted for a refreshingly fruity housemade sangria.

In fairness, I returned a few days later, on a very slow Monday at lunch, and found spartan staffing, a lull in service and a meal that was at best an institutional treatment of a luncheon sized ribeye steak and fries — boring to look at, fatty and tough to eat. It was, as we have all experienced, a very different restaurant than the one I visited the previous Saturday night. Staffing on slow days is tough — I get that — which requires the cream of crew being on point those days, not distracted B–teamers.

I last ate at Sam Snead’s with my friend Tim Guidera of WTOC. We had a similar experience to the one I had with friends recently, and that was two years ago. Bottom line: For a special dinner or evening out Sam Snead’s is worth the trip to Pooler and a great value and experience. I’ll go back more often.

7 Sylvester C. Formey Dr./963–0797

Tastes of the Med

I’m teaming with Chef Donnie Simmons to pair wines with his 5–course dinner at Taco Abajo featuring flavors of Spain. A reception wine will also be paired with a roasted suckling pig. Seating is limited; I’ll talk about each wine between courses. $60 per person, Oct. 26, 6:30 p.m. Reservations, call 480–9050. The full menu is under “events” on Taco Abajo’s Facebook page.