There are three big reasons to go to the Black Sheep Lodge, and they all start with 'B': burgers, beer and bonhomie (or brotherhood, or Bon Jovi).
It's a feel-good South Austin watering hole with big wooden benches inside and out, fat Teutonic signage and old-fashioned ski lodge posters, the kind of place that would have been filled with smoke in the days before city ordinances cracked down.
But a pint of Bear Republic Racer 5 and a Black Sheep Burger on a smoke-free Friday will have to do for now. And the $6.99 burger is a winner, hot and fresh with a half-pound of meat, plus mixed greens and the usual fixings on a dense local bakery bun with a hint of sweetness. As with all the burgers and sandwiches, it comes with one side, and among the battered fries, onion rings and sweet potato fries, I liked the last one best.
No matter which side, or which anything, you eat at Black Sheep, spring for one of the 75-cent housemade sauces, especially the grainy beer mustard and the sinus-clearing curry ketchup.
For a burger with sharper personality, the Black Buffalo Burger ($6.99) takes the basic model and tosses in hot Buffalo sauce and blue cheese. If cows had wings, they should taste like this. And because chickens have wings, they should taste better than the appetizer of smoked chipotle wings ($6.99), which I liked mostly for the bed of tangy cabbage-and-carrot slaw that came with them.
That slaw also perked up a sandwich of pulled pork ($7.49) that was tender and filling. And where that sandwich left gaps in spice and flavor, a bowl of Black Sheep chili ($2.99 plus 75 cents for cheese) made up the difference with the tang of tomato and peppers.
So far, not a bad lunch for a Wednesday. But Wednesday is a special day here, with $1 cans of blue-collar beer your granddad drank: Pearl, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz and the like. I like my hop-crazy IPAs like any homebrew geek, but an ice-cold tallboy of Lone Star for a buck tastes great, even when none of your fancy friends are there to see how ironic you are while you're drinking it.
On another visit, we sat at the picnic tables outside to watch the cars fly by on South Lamar Boulevard. The gravel patio was trashed out like a drive-in movie theater. It had a lived-in feel, like a hobo camp. I had to get up and flag down a waitress four times: to take my drink order, to take my food order, to bring the check and to take my money.
The food didn't help. Not the basket of oily, soggy battered hot dog chunks that passed for corndog bites ($5.99). Not the portobello cheesesteak ($7.49) with sour mushrooms and grilled onions, some with the skins left on, which had an impressive tensile strength and were about as edible as dental floss. For the side, I picked the daily vegetable, which turned out to be a sad bouquet of long, tough stalks of broccoli. What to say? The bread and cheese were nice?
And maybe you love Firefly, the vodka concoction that tastes like sweet tea. Maybe to you it tastes like Zippo lighter fuel. Black Sheep Lodge sells it by the drink and by the pitcher. I'll give you my accounting of it at www.austin360.com/forklore.
But listen. For whatever drawbacks you might run across with distracted waiters or ill-conceived vegetarian hoagies, the Black Sheep is a friendly place with a neighborhood camaraderie, as long as you don't park in the Birds Barbershop lot next door. It's full of life at night. Dart throwers, pool players, TV watchers, bar huggers, boyfriends and girlfriends. Hard to believe it's only been there since May.
Black Sheep Lodge
2108 S. Lamar Blvd., 707-2744, black sheeplodge.com.Rating (casual dining):5.8 out of 10
Hours:11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Fridays, until 1 a.m. Saturdays.
Prices:Starters $2.99 (chips and salsa, chili) to $9.99 (meat and cheese sampler). Salads $2.99-$5.99. Burgers and sandwiches $6.99-$7.99. Hot dogs $3.99-$4.99. Desserts $3.99.
Payment:All major cards
Bar:Full bar, with frozen margaritas, a full line of wells and premiums and a handful of wines. Twenty beers on tap, favoring American craft brews, plus dozens more in bottles and a handful of oldies-but-goldies in cans.
Wheelchair access:Call ahead.
What the rating means:The average of weighted scores for food, service, atmosphere and value.