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Little teriyaki stand on the prairie



I remember a time, not so very long ago but oh so very far away, when the only bastion of civilization on the corner of Lexington and Woodmen roads was the solitary 7-11 store. That was it, the very last corporate outlet on the road headed east, where you wouldn't find another chain anything until you reached Calhan.

But then the marching rows of pastel homes brought their inhabitants farther and farther away from town, and it was only a matter of time before the tall, hip-skimming prairie grasses were mowed down in favor of a King Soopers and a shopping center. In the face of such rampant development, it would have taken a fine example of convenience and culture to convince a treehugger such as myself that this shopping center was worthwhile. According to my little sister, however, there is a reason for this place's existence, and they serve teriyaki.

My sister, a high school freshmen in the Falcon District 49 school system, is, to say the least, thrilled about the commercial developments in the Chapel Hills area. To her age group, they bring a commodity worth more than Eminem and 'N Sync combined -- something to do. The urbanization of Briargate virtually guarantees places to hang out, and Samurai Sam's Teriyaki Grill is no exception.

Located in the new shopping center at Lexington and Woodmen, the small red and black-tiled eatery is consistently filled with the 15 to 26ish age group, all armed with chopsticks. There aren't many Asian restaurants in the immediate area, and even fewer with this kind of modern spin. Set up fast-food style, the place is clean and neat, with a counter in the back behind the many spacious tables. The self-serve drinks, utensils and condiments station wins bonus points for offering the good chopsticks, the kind that are already smoothed and that you don't have to break apart.

The big menu items that my sister tells me most everybody gets, are the teriyaki bowls. White styrofoam bowls filled with chicken and/or steak, vegetables and sticky rice, they run about 4 or 5 bucks, depending on what you order. The combos get you a drink and a fresh salad of greens and chow mein noodles, topped with Sam's own vinaigrette dressing -- not extraordinary but well-balanced and tasty.

According to the menu, Samurai Sam's teriyaki sauce is "famous." Where it is famous, the menu neglects to mention. It sure is sweet, almost cloying. Without the excellent rice, it might be a bit much, but the well-cooked meat and fresh veggies balance it out.

We munched big eggrolls, grilled not fried (check these out, if only for curiosity's sake) and people watched. For 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, when we visited, there was a goodly amount of foot traffic in and out of the place. Sam's must be packed on the weekends. I don't know if the Denny's phenomenon is still in action, but in my not-so-long-ago day, Denny's was the place to hang. So many people crowded that place to socialize that the management instituted time allowances of varying lengths, depending on the dish ordered.

Don't get me wrong; it's not just teenagers mowing down hot Sumo bowls -- the district manager isn't coming in to give the patrons behavior lectures. All ages stop by to get in on the reasonably priced fare at Samurai Sam's, which also includes sushi and prawn entrees for the oceanically inclined. It's a good, mellow mix of people.

I'm not about to say that a strip mall is a good use of open land, especially that space, but I can at least ease my mind knowing that the one little corner inhabited by Samurai Sam's is an OK use of space. Now about that H & R Block ...

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