“It’s not about the food.” -Lisa Davey
As with my last post, I’m still travelling eastward across the United States towards St. Louis, Missouri. As I type this, St. Louis is currently under one of the worst, deepest, coldest winter storms it has seen in DECADES. I’m not there, yet. No, tonight finds me in Amarillo, Texas.
If you have ever traveled across Texas via highway 40 (which takes you across the panhandle), you have seen the same billboards that my traveling companion and I did. In amongst all of the billboards for horribly defunct Stuckeys and a thousand places to buy moccasins, you will be invited to visit “the home of the FREE 72 Ounce Steak!” The name of the restaurant doesn’t even appear on the billboards for the first couple of hundred miles, but you learn it eventually.
It can be no place but the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Lisa demanded that we would be visiting this place… we passed it on our trip out in October, and I’d eschewed stopping in favor of making better time through Texas. Since we planned a stop in Amarillo, this trip, it seemed like this was destiny. We’d driven the relatively short hop from Albuquerque, New Mexico early in the day, so we arrived in Amarillo with plenty of time to plan a dinner excursion.
The concierge at the Comfort Suites Inn, upon hearing that Lisa really wanted to go to the Big Texan, arranged a Limousine for us, free of charge. The Big Texan runs a free limo service to most of the local hotels, so it was easy enough. Let me tell you something, though… after a day of driving for hours, the words “your limo will pick you up at seven” have an incredible ring to them.
I’m going to try to describe the Big Texan as best I can, but I’m going to fail. It’s scale and scope defies description; it is so much bigger, and so much better, and so much madder than words alone can convey! Where my other dining adventures along this trip have been wondrous excursions into holes in walls that have hidden dining halls, this was… beautifully monstrous.
I didn’t get a really good look at the outside of it; I was on the wrong side of the limo for that. The driver had spent the fifteen minute drive giving us the history of the place, the story behind the famous challenge, and a listing of points of interest. I didn’t get to see the full enormity of the giant lit-up cowboy statue or the giant lizard on fireworks sculpture; I barely got to see the huge red barn-like structure surrounded by lights and signs. If you dropped this establishment in the middle of the Las Vegas strip, people would look at it and say “wow, that’s kind of garish.”
The Big Texan used to be a stop on Route 66… when they built highway 40, they moved it, giant cowboy and all.
Stepping inside, there’s a giant stuffed bear, huge moose and deer heads on the wall, a brightly-lit gift shop to the left, and a fudge counter with forty varieties of freshly-made fudge directly ahead. To the right, the restaurant.
Moving towards the restaurant, there is a display on ice. There is a salad, some sides, a shrimp cocktail, a dinner roll, and a seventy-two ounce steak; that’s four and-a-half pounds. This is the challenge… eat all of that, and do it within one hour, and the meal is free.
Yeah… no. It looked good and all, but damn. No. My “four pounds of steak at a sitting” days are well past me, thank you.
The dining room is HUGE. We were seated next to the stage; a raised platform with a table set for six or so. This place was featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “Man Versus Food,” and they play that up a lot. There’s a big kitchen, open to the dining room, and six massive timers mounted over the stage. The challenge is a huge draw, obviously. There’s a second level of balcony seating. Everything is done in old-west theme, right down to the cowboy hats and sheriff stars on the wait staff. The room is HUGE… like a big school gym huge. It’s brightly lit, the walls are decorated with more animal heads, the chandeliers are wagon wheels, the whole bit. Can you picture the biggest western-movie set ever? Do you have a picture in your head? Hang on a second.
It was still decorated for Christmas.
Lights in all colors blazing from garlands strung along the balconies and chandeliers, huge glowing snowflakes, Christmas trees suspended upside-down from the ceiling… my head almost exploded. I was raised in front of a 28″ Zenith television set, my favorite colors are whatever hurts my eyes from a distance, I think neon is a fashion accessory, and this place was TOO MUCH for me.
It was GLORIOUS. I was in Meat-Disney. The menu hurt my eyes, and I never wanted to stop looking at it. Lisa and I had previously agreed that we were going to bite the bullet, so to speak, and start with a half order of the “Rocky Mountain Oysters.” For those who might think those are seafood, that is the euphemistic name for bull testicles; deep fried in this case. Yes, I ate balls.
Aside from a little chewiness, they were amazing. They had flavors of beef and oysters and the breading was done just right. A little cocktail sauce and/or ranch dressing, and they were a perfect appetizer. I wish we’d have gotten the full order.
Lisa ordered the Prime Rib, and I ordered the T-Bone. I didn’t see the T-Bone on the menu, but the waiter told me that they’d added it recently.
This will be the last time I will order something that isn’t on the menu.
Aside from being a steak house, the Big Texan is also a brewery. Lisa got a flight of beers to sample; when we discovered that the Raspberry Ale and Chocolate stout mixed well, she ordered a full-sized mix of the two. The staff was happy and accommodating; I’m not a big beer drinker, but damn. That was both complex and rich and it was a perfect companion to the meal.
Our meals arrived, and they were beautiful. I mean, seriously Beautifully prepared, rare as ordered, and accompanied by well-prepared sides. I need to digress for a moment… bear with me.
I’ve mentioned my friend Lisa often in this blog; I’ve just gotten her permission to discuss this. Lisa lost her husband Gary three years ago, a man of particular tastes and wonderful appetites. The Prime Rib she ordered was his favorite dish, not hers, and it was ordered as rare as he would have liked it. Gary had a particular song that he enjoyed and identified with; “Man of Constant Sorrows.” You may have heard this song performed by a group called the Soggy Bottom Boys when they performed it for the movie “Brother Where Art Thou.” Lisa identifies this song so strongly with her memories of Gary that it was played at his funeral. This becomes important.
Back to dinner. We receive our meals and take a moment to meditate on them; Lisa states that this one is for Gary. Her Prime Rib is incredible; among the best I’ve ever tasted; both the Horseradish sauce and the Au Jus served with it had a master’s polish to them.
My 30 ounce T-Bone was like a museum of particularly ruthless gristle.
I HATE sending food back. I will go to some pretty impressive lengths to finish something rather than complain about it. After five or six bites that I could neither chew nor swallow, though, I had to call over the waiter and let him know that the T-Bone was unsatisfactory. He took it back without any problems; the service here is top notch, all the way around.
I was informed within a few minutes that the chef had gotten three of the 30 ounce T-Bones returned that night, so they suggested I take the 20 ounce portion instead. I’d rather have a small steak that I can eat rather than a big steak that I can’t, so that was fine.
Half of the replacement T-Bone was incredible, a remaining third of it was passable, and the last fraction was inedible. With the proper application of sweet cole slaw and yeasty dinner rolls, it was a meal. I will give the Big Texan kudos for having a BUCKET of butter on the table when I sat down; that went a long ways towards making things better.
I’m sure that most of the steaks served at the Big Texan are amazing; no one else seemed to be having anything other than a great time and a good meal. Again, that’s the last time I order something that isn’t on the menu… if it doesn’t have the restaurant’s confidence, then it probably shouldn’t have mine.
We looked over the dessert menu and decided against it; the beer had been plenty bad for my blood sugar already, and while the offerings looked tasty, they also looked kind of common. I can get a big cookie ice-cream sundae lots of places; we decided to keep this meal special.
After dinner, we had a bit of a wait for our limo to take us back (they were only running one limo, but it was late at night on a Sunday. Totally understandable). There was PLENTY to keep us busy, though! Lisa bought a growler of the mixed raspberry and chocolate beers, we shopped in the gift shop and visited the real live rattlesnake in a terrarium, we both took a turn in the Shooting Gallery, and we were about to head back to try out the comically over-sized rocking chair when it was time to go.
How did I like the Big Texan? I loved it. I would go again. I’m already craving another helping of Rocky Mountain Oysters. The Big Texan Steak Ranch relies on a LOT of pageant, shock-and-awe, and hoopla to get your attention. That’s all right; if you’ve ever driven through Amarillo on highway 40, you know that it has one metric crapload of competition. Free limo rides, cartoonish food challenges and a carnival atmosphere are all perfectly acceptable means of getting my ADHD attention.
I’d have liked to have tried a different steak; something established on the menu. I have no doubts it would have been better. Still, I had two steaks; one completely unacceptable, and one mediocre (on the average).
I will gladly recommend the Big Texan Steak Ranch; if you’re near Amarillo, or even driving through on highway 40, you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t give it a try. It’s not cheap, but with wise menu choices, it’s affordable.
Oh… one more thing.
As we were dining, there was a cowboy band walking around and taking requests. When they got to our table, Lisa asked for “A Boy Called Sue” by Johnny Cash. They didn’t know that one. Me being me, I asked for the theme from “Rawhide.” They didn’t know that one either.
Then they said that they had once done a song for a movie, and it had been pretty popular, so they’d play that for us.
The band was the Soggy Bottom Boys. They played “Man of Constant Sorrows.”
I’m not going to tell you that you’ll have a metaphysical experience if you go to the Big Texan Steak Ranch. I’m just telling you that we did. Your mileage may vary.