Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Finest Eating Joint in Texas, Part 3

Oh god, that meal.

Let's start with something I forgot to mention during the appetizer course. Valerie, my boss, tried to order onion rings as one of our appetizers, but Trevor the waiter returned to tell us that The Big Texan was out of onion rings. I worked for a summer as a Sonic carhop--the third worst job I've ever had--and one of my responsibilities in the morning before the Sonic opened was to assist in the making of onion rings. As mentioned earlier, I still eat at Sonic, even after working in one for three months. I don't think I'll be returning to The Big Texan without coercive methods. Anyway, it's not hard to make an onion ring, and since the whole menu was swimming in batter, the issue must have been that either A) they were out of onions, or B) they were too lazy to hack up some onions and dip them in the vats of batter. The onion rings weren't the only missing items from the menu that night.

We ordered. Chris the Bottomless Stomach, who had already ordered the 32 oz beer, ordered the second largest steak on the menu, a 36 oz slab of cow, the "Houston Cut" ribeye, that made me feel nauseated at mere contemplation. Most of the others ordered cow products, though Gianna ordered a baked potato with everything but the bacon bits, her best option as the table's vegetarian. Not a cow eater, I narrowed my choices down to either the fried chicken strips for $15.25 or the fried shrimp with "Buck-a-Roo Cocktail Sauce" for $16.95. I thought that it was outrageous to charge over $15 for chicken strips, and I (wrongly) guessed that if they were willing to cute-ify the name of the dipping sauce that the shrimp were the better choice. On the other hand, Amarillo rests about 800 miles from an ocean. I asked Trevor if the shrimp were frozen, which I didn't really care about, but sometimes I watch Gordon Ramsey's "Kitchen Nightmares" show and he's always going on about fresh ingredients. Trevor basically guaranteed that the shrimp were from the deep freeze, but I humored the "how bad can they be?" thought and ordered them anyway, along with a salad and mashed potatoes. Valerie ordered a steak, mashed potatoes, and another side, and Alan, who had talked about ribs for ten minutes, ordered a rack.

Then we sat back and waited. We waited for the two people from our account to join us, as they had been delayed by an event. We waited for the food. Everyone continued to drink, except for Brenda who never received her margarita, and we heard detailed descriptions of the flights from Maryland (our logistics people) and Minnesota (Alan). Trevor somewhat regularly found his way to the table to bring more beer, but not the food. After about 45 minutes of waiting, the appetizer trays scraped clean, we heard a commotion downstairs. A waitress announced that someone was attempting the 72 oz steak challenge. A large man sat at a table in the middle of the first floor with a slab of cow smothering a plate. The waitress explained the rules; eat the whole steak, the baked potato, the salad, the rolls, and three shrimp in an hour and they are free. She didn't point out that if he failed he would pay almost $100 for the meal, or that a vomit bucket sat on the floor beside his table. People gathered around to wish him luck, and lots of people snapped pictures, and the freak show nature of the joint intensified. And back at our table, Valerie and Alan began to grow impatient for our food. The logistics team was still on East Coast time and we were all hungry. Plus, Chris the Stomach was already on his second 32 oz beer. We needed our food.

As Chris the Wannabe Kobayashi criticized steak guy's strategy for downing the massive cow hunk ("You have to eat 75% of it in the first 20 minutes, before your stomach realizes what's happening"), Valerie got up to track down Trevor and our dinners. As soon as she stood, naturally, he appeared with our entrees. He served most of the main courses. I can't speak about the quality of the food down on Gianna's side of the table, though I do know that Gianna's baked potato "with everything but the bacon bits" arrived as only a potato, nothing else, and she knew that it wasn't hot because Trevor picked up the foil-wrapped potato and set it down in front of her without the assistance of a hot mat. Or a plate. I repeat, she didn't receive a plate.

As for my end of the table, well, we weren't impressed by the quality. Valerie's steak was very cold, and Alan's ribs looked awful, with the sauce congealed across a grayish matter that was allegedly meat. Across from me, Kathy cut into her "medium well" steak, which was described on the menu as "no pink, cooked throughout," and blood pooled in her plate. She looked stricken and sent the plate back with Trevor to experience the phenomenon of fire. And then there were my shrimp. I could tell right away that something was off about my shrimp. It was that the top three were fried together as they obviously had been removed from the freezer, stuck together. The cook hadn't bothered to separate them before dropping them in the fryer, and then he hadn't bothered to hide the horror underneath the other shrimp. They were on top, like a prized nugget. Also, I've had good-though-frozen shrimp that were good quality. These little shrimp were obviously not high quality. They were pulverized flat to make them seem larger than the medium-to-small size they actually were. No shrimp exist like that in nature. The tasted pretty nasty, too.

About the time that people began sending their food back to the kitchen for heating/cooking, the two people joining us from our account arrived. They greeted everyone, sat down, and ordered drinks. Meanwhile, Chris the Cow Compactor had torn into the huge steak on his plate. I am very glad that I wasn't sitting next to him, because he's a nice and highly entertaining guy, but watching that cow consumption would have required a bucket for me too. As Chris ate, though, it quickly was obvious to all of us that he was putting the 72 oz challenger downstairs to shame. As Beefy T downstairs was giving up, Chris was mopping up his plate. And because I found my shrimp disgusting and my sides had yet to arrive, I was taking pictures. As the big guy packed up about 2/3 of his steak, Chris all but licked his plate. The waitress presented the challenger with an "I Surrender!" t-shirt, and people cheered the attempt, and I'm guessing that the guy was thinking that the shirt probably tasted better than his steak. If you look closely at the picture, he managed to eat ALL of his salad. Gianna screamed down to my end of the table, "Liz! Look! NO WEDDING RING!" She's constantly on the look out for a future Mr. Liz, and I probably don't show my gratitude properly. Anyway, if you look at the plate behind Chris's juicy remains, you'll notice huge cuts of onion. Guess that answers the onion ring question.

While we were making fun of the guy who failed to eat the 72 oz steak, Trevor stopped by and we quizzed him on the challenge. He told us that about 15 people attempted it each day, and that often it ends with the challenger using the puke bucket. Worse, they don't tell the regular diners that the contestant next to them might ruin the whole dining room's meal by retching four and a half pounds of cow into a metal bucket. I'm glad that we were sitting in the balcony.

In the meantime, we were still waiting on our sides, and after Valerie asked for the third time--I think she wanted SOMETHING to eat and was hoping that the mashed potatoes would compensate for the cold and congealed cow on her plate--the potatoes arrived. They were vile, and possibly the worst "food" on the table. The consistency of glue and adhering to the dishes (I flipped mine upside-down and tried to jar them loose, with no success), they were flavorless, luke-warm, and very, very bad. If you saw the movie The Matrix, and you remember the gross protein substance that Keanu and his pals ate for breakfast, imagine that glop after it has solidified. Those were our potatoes. And after still more pleading, we finally received our second sides, in my case a salad. Now, I normally treat salad as a necessary evil before the good parts of a meal, and I regularly state that I don't eat twigs and shrubs, but that salad was the best thing I ate that night. If only I hadn't waited almost three hours for it to arrive, I might have enjoyed the food portion of my Big Texan experience more. I should make clear that I had a blast taking in the absurdity of the entire scene, but the food was terrible and the service appalling. I don't blame Trevor--he seemed flustered and overwhelmed the whole time, and we found out that he'd only been working there for about two weeks. And it wasn't his fault that starving refugees would have hesitated to eat that food. On the whole, though, I couldn't believe that the restaurant was featured on the Food Network. Valerie, feeling obstinate, demanded that they serve us the dinner rolls we should have received about two hours earlier, and though I didn't eat one, the consensus at the table was that the rolls were good.

And then we ordered dessert. Chris-Who-Ate-Amarillo ordered a slice of cheesecake, and in an attempt to find some food over going back to the hotel hungry, Valerie, Alan, and I shared a piece of chocolate cake. A couple of other desserts were ordered for the other end of the table. Alan ordered black coffee, and Annette ordered decaf. A minute later, Trevor came back and announced that they were out of regular coffee. I lost it. I was laughing hysterically and Valerie questioned my mental state as I openly guffawed at the whole evening. Then she joined me laughing. What kind of a restaurant doesn't have coffee? And wouldn't you send someone to go buy some coffee before admitting that you're out to a table of 11 whose orders have been mangled from the time they sat down? How is this place still open?? When the desserts arrived, Alan immediately sent back our chocolate cake so that they could add the ice cream, whipped cream, nuts, and cherry that were shown in the picture on the dessert menu. They had sent out a slab of cake on a plate with no garnish, and for that matter, no clean utensils. As Trevor tried to hand us forks, he himself, pulled back his hand because he didn't think that the handful of utensils had been washed. And then we heard the laughter from the other end of the table. After a meal of oversized excess, Chris's slice of cheesecake was shockingly small, smaller than the fare at the Olive Garden down the road, smaller than the cheesecake sold in the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru.

God, what a meal.

We rode the hideous limos back to the hotel, and on the ride we figured out that Chris had eaten 36 ounces of cow, his salad, the cheesecake, and consumed a full gallon of beer, and he hadn't even used the restroom. Chris swore that on his next visit to Amarillo, he was tackling the 72 oz monster. I hope I'm not there. I would vomit.

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