Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Finest Eating Joint in Texas, Part 1

I am not a foodie. I'd just as soon eat at Sonic (bless the Sonic) as any place that features cloth napkins. Gianna, too, isn't snooty in her cuisine choices, and she's a vegetarian, so when we're on road trips together the restaurant choices are pretty low brow. Recently I drove from Houston to Austin, picked up my fellow rep, and then we drove to Amarillo, and three days later we reversed the trip--roughly 22 hours of driving total. On this four day trip that spanned the entire state of Texas, we ate at classy establishments like the Olive Garden in Abilene, the Subway in Amarillo, and we really splurged on lunch at the Taco Bell in Lubbock. My monthly credit card statement must appall my colleagues in New York, but we tend to go with fast over haute dining. I have as many saved phone numbers for various Macaroni Grills on my cell phone as I do members of the Sullivan clan, and generally I prefer the Macaroni Grill to my family. The car-side servers are more polite generally.

The exception to the quick, boring schlock upon which we regularly dine arises when that obligatory anomaly pops up--the work dinner. While in Amarillo, several members of the publishing universe we inhabit descended from our central offices and warehouse to discuss operations with our Amarillo account. One cannot stroll through the Rick Husband/Amarillo "International" Airport (they fly to Mexico) without seeing advertisements for The Big Texan, the home of the 72 ounce steak. One cannot drive from the airport to downtown Amarillo without passing the actual building in its yellow-rose-of-Texas color scheme and gaudy aesthetic offensiveness. The Food Network even featured the establishment in one of their programs that promotes oddity over quality (Man Vs. Food, I think). There's even a classic episode of one of my favorite TV shows ever, King of the Hill, in which 13 year old Bobby Hill eats a 72 ounce steak at a Big Texan-type restaurant to tweak his nose at his vegetarian ex-girlfriend. The Big Texan is an Amarillo and Texas landmark.

In spite of the alluring tackiness that would normally tempt someone with my love of absurdity (particularly because The Big Texan has a terrifically absurd gift shop), I had never stepped into the building. Gianna is a vegetarian, after all, and because of throat problems and general taste issues, I can't and won't swallow beef except in hamburger form. We'd never been there, and more tellingly, the people we called on in Amarillo never wanted to go there. However, one of our colleagues flying in for operations meetings last week desperately wanted to experience The Big Texan. Our boss Valerie, a great organizer and the type who can juggle personalities skillfully while indulging the crazy guy who wants huge slabs of cow, arranged for a group of us--eleven people in total--to dine at this Texas institution. She even arranged for the Big Texan limos to pick us up at our luxurious Hampton Inn accommodations. In case you were wondering, yes, there are longhorn antlers on the front of the limos. Guessing from all of the talk of alcohol consumption, I figured that I wasn't the only person feeling ambivalent about this dining experience. But I do love the spectacle and the ridiculous, and as we rode to the restaurant I snapped pictures.

A note about the limos--they weren't nice. They reeked, and the upholstery was missing from the side of one of them, and I'm pretty certain that our little party is the only group ever to ride in the limos and not ask to visit a strip club after our meal. I would bet that we're one of the few groups not to vomit in them. Moving on to dinner.

One of our visiting colleagues, a guy named Chris, is one of those high metabolism guys like the hotdog eating champion Kobayashi--wiry and twitchy with energy. I suspect that he may have driven his second grade teacher to the nervous hospital back in the day. Chris had talked big about eating the 72 ounce steak before boarding the plane from the East Coast to the Texas Panhandle, but after eating a big burger for lunch he chickened out. He, by the way, was the one who had seen The Big Texan on the Food Network and I mostly blame him for this excursion. Other people present included other warehouse/logistics staff/publishing supply geniuses Kathy, Annette, and Flo (sounds a bit like the names of phony receptionists on infomercials from my childhood, when every single person with a headset was named "Nancy"), children's rep Brenda and her boss Alan, Gianna, Valerie our boss, me, and two members of the book team from our account in Amarillo, Matthew and Sylvia.

We walked into the restaurant after fifteen minutes of inhaling the aromas of our pimpin' limos...

...more to come shortly...

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