Rubber Chicken Scratchings: Hungry in Hermantown? Eat cheap at Sam's Club!

Say you're in Hermantown and you're enjoying a Saturday afternoon doing "Hermantown-y" things -- like counting all the businesses that used to be in Duluth -- when, suddenly, your stomach starts grumbling louder than Harry Welty at a Duluth Schoo...

Say you're in Hermantown and you're enjoying a Saturday afternoon doing "Hermantown-y" things -- like counting all the businesses that used to be in Duluth -- when, suddenly, your stomach starts grumbling louder than Harry Welty at a Duluth School Board meeting. What do you do? (About your grumbling stomach, not Mr. Welty. There's really nothing you can do about Harry, other than elect him to office so he'll finally quiet down.)

You could stop by any of Hermantown's plentiful sit-down restaurants like ... um ... uh, you know that one I'm thinking of ... help me out here ... the one by the closed car dealership that used to be by the closed furniture store that's by the former restaurant that's now an exercise place next to the other exercise place that's now closed. Texas Tejas! That's the -- wait, forget that.

Besides, you don't have time to sit down at some fancy former restaurant. You've got cat food to purchase in bulk. You have to hit Sam's Club right now or you're going to get home too late to see Park Point residents, Barbara Reyelts and my splotchy rash profiled on the Food Network's "Whiners, Has-Beens and Hives." Well, fear not. You can quiet that rumbling tummy and bulk-purchase your sad items, all at the same time. It's "sample day" at Sam's Club in Hermantown (Official slogan: "A City Library? What Now?").

Just walking into Sam's Club is thrilling. You have to flash a special card to even be allowed access to this hallowed ground of big-box consumerism. Of course, the employee who drew the short end of the Sam's Club stick (available in cartons of 30!) doesn't really look too closely -- you could be showing them your unused Toad the Wet Sprocket concert ticket and they'd still wave you by. But who cares? You're in, and it's Sample Saturday!

Now, be sure and pace yourself. You are going to be tempted to race wildly through this cavernous warehouse in search of all the green-and-white sample carts. You may fear they will run out of this bounty of free teeny-weeny food before you get your share. Be patient. Sam's Club is huge. You can get a 10-pack roll of radial tires for your Blazer, for heaven's sake. They have plenty of everything, so slow down. Walk leisurely down that first aisle. Take note of the blue mountains of casual-fitting Levi's and the gigantic bouncing trampoline floating above your head. Experience Sam's Club the way it was meant to be experienced, take a deep breath and smell the disinfectant. Now, as you reach the end of that long, grey aisle, you come upon the first cart, and you can begin.


The first sample

This is the healthy stuff, so be brief; there are juicier samples waiting. A small container of plum shavings and a kiwi slice and you should be on your way.

The second and third samples

The food is improving. Seasoned steak chunks, dry cheese that is deliciously off somehow and flat, seedy rolls are usually featured in this section. I lucked out last Saturday: It appeared that Sam's Club couldn't afford to staff three sample carts, so they just had one minimum-wage "purveyor of yumminess" combining all three ingredients into one delectable quarter-sandwich that I'm still tasting this week.

The fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. samples

You have now reached free-food nirvana: the frozen food section. Several rows of sample carts are camped here, and you have to move decisively if you want to taste it all. Hungry teens and surly elderly couples make this section challenging, but a few flying elbows to the ribs are worth the effort. Flaked salmon cake; cups of wild rice soup so thick you have to swallow it three times; breakfast burritos fresh out of the microwave and oozing with steaming liquid goodness ... as Guy Fieri mutters while wolfing down free Duluth food, it's "money."

Shovel this junk into your face faster than Brad Bennett shovels it out of his on WDSM. You've earned it. After all, you spent a Saturday in Hermantown (Official slogan, for this weekend only: "Tall Ships? Seriously? You're Excited About Tall Ships?").

Brian Matuszak has been difficult and demanding since February of 2008. He is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre and founder of Rubber Chicken Theater and he always skips the last two sample carts near the checkouts. Nothing there but some weird, gunky energy-power/candy-bar-shake drinks in micro-cups. Eesh.

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