Falling into my “big things” category, but not for the usual reasons…. This restaurant is sort of famous in the US (really, how many restaurants that aren’t major chains warrant a Wikipedia page?), not because the food is so amazing — it’s good, but I wasn’t deeply impressed (and even sent back the first dish)… but more for being an impressive tourist trap. In the vein of “everything is bigger in Texas” this place challenges the consumer to snarf down a HUGE 72 oz steak, a bread roll with butter, a side salad, and a fried shrimp appetizer in under an hour.
IF the customer can, then the meal is free, if they can’t, it costs $72 (the other large steaks cost slightly over $1 an oz, so still a discount); and the challenge comes with a very specific set of rules.
As this was the question asked most by my Facebook friends…. According to the Wikipedia page: The challenge began in 1960 and “as of February 2018, over 9,500 people out of about 62,000 have accomplished this feat”… so in about 58 years, about 1,070 people try a year…
According to the manager I spoke with, HE said they average about 35 challenges a week — which sort of jives with my math (20 people a week) if you figure it took some time for the word to spread and with the number of people stepping forth to try it escalating over time.
That said the restaurant has evolved over the years from just being a restaurant to being a “road side attraction”… aka tourist trap
Not only is the main building kind of huge (this is a picture of it from the front and side)
It property comes complete with its own Motel (and sufficient parking for Trucks and RV’s)
I arrived on a Saturday night and the poor girl who meets you at the front door essentially has the job of standing there and saying “It’ll be a 15 to 20 minute wait” while handing out buzzers… almost once every 30 seconds….
for folks who show up single there’s a bar in the waiting area which gets very little traffic, where you can sit almost immediately (I didn’t take a picture of it, but it’s fairly long and there at least 10 spots held for solo eaters that I could have sat at, had I wanted to). This is because waiting sections of the place are HUGE and diverting. There’s a massive gift that is as big as if that were their sole business…. and stuffed to the brims
I was tempted by this … but where would I put it? (This sign is particularly funny in Amarillo as they’ve NOT marked where 66 is… they sort of designated one area of town to 66 but it doesn’t seem to link to the rest of the road in any meaningful way, and almost feels arbitrary and resurrected for the tourists, unlike in say LA or Albuquerque, where the are actually roads that link to form a whole)
AND there’s a gaming area with a shooting gallery for the kids/families AND gaming machines (see right side of image) for the adults
Behind THAT there’s a section with tables for people who just want to sit with a drink and talk while waiting, but on a Saturday night it was pretty empty
And behind that is the hallway to the bathrooms, which was lined with those moving pictures that change based on where you’re standing… all of which were historic portraits that changed into horrific images…. these sorts of things…. which kept me and a few other people entertained for a good 10 minutes as we decided which were the worst (and which could be purchased at the gift-shop). I.e., the “customer holding pen” is designed to separate you from your money, is almost as big as the eating room (which is two stories), and I’d bet is probably more profitable.
Only then do you enter the main eating area…
It is two stories high (happily I didn’t have to climb stairs), and is (I believe) set up so that anyone taking the challenge is sat in the central area and becomes part of the attraction; they are not only observable by most of the other customers.
But there’s a clock located below the massive cow-head, that can accommodate up to six competitors at once. But, no one was competing when I was there, which is why I think they have these guys walking around entertaining the guests (sort of a country western Tex/Mex nod to the Hispanic tradition)
I arrived at the restaurant having not eaten all day… other than a cup of coffee. So I was pretty hungry. I consulted with the various guests around me, and one of them … who was eating Chicken fried steak convinced me to order that. It is very much NOT on my allowed diet (both steak and fried) but its one of my very favorite things. I ordered it with the vegetable soup and baked sweet potato (sweet potatoes are MUCH MUCH MUCH healthier than normal ones, and are even diabetic acceptable). I was also drawn to try the baby-back-ribs, which this place sells in a sampler menu of three as an appetizer.
The ribs were tasty … although, as I explained to the people next to me when they asked, “I’m Jewish”… they went quite for a second and then broke into laughter… “so really, I think they’re tasty but in 50 odd years it’s only like my 3rd time eating them.” The guy next to me asked if the meat was falling off the bone, which it was… and was it tasty, which it was… so he declared that meant they were good.
The soup was a bit thin… it was watery sort of soup with mushrooms and potatoes and other veggies in it, with a little bit of a kick (spice). But it was good, and since it had been a cold rainy day and my nose was running a bit, it was satisfying.
Then the “star” of the meal, my Chicken fried steak with white sauce, which is how they do it in Texas. (It was very pretty, but I didn’t take a picture of it, sorry.) I had my first bite and…. BLECH!!!! Firstly, it was neither cubed steak nor an actual fillet (which is how I prefer it), it was hamburger … and FATTY hamburger at that… and pretty much ALL I could taste in my mouth was a mouthful of fat. BLECH! I pushed it to the side and continued to eat my soup, with an intention of then starting on my sweet potato.
After a while a waiter finally came by (wasn’t impressed with the wait staff’s attentiveness) with an obligatory “how’s everything” which wasn’t genuine and I could tell he assumed would be “ok” only to be shocked when I pointed to the now cold plate of chicken fried steak… that was pushed to the far side of the table… which he REALLY should have noticed if he were any good at his job… and said, “I don’t like that.”
He went, and got the manager, who asked why I hadn’t like it… so I described my diet and how Chicken fried Steak is really one of my favorite foods, but that this one wasn’t good enough to justify breaking the diet… so he then suggest I order the grilled Salmon instead, which I did. And, unlike the day before when I had ordered salmon and got served trout… today it was actually salmon, and a fairly large slab of it.
It was well cooked (by US standards), but firm but not dry… and sort of heavily spiced with spices I’d normally reserve for steak. But, by the time it had arrived I’d had 3 ribs, a cup of soup, a piece of Texas toast and 3 bread rolls… so I ended up packing up it and the sweet potato to have for lunch the next day (I had booked in a rest day from my travels, which a forecast of really lousy weather ensured I’d take…)
That said…If you’re hungry but not THAT hungry, they also offer 12, 18, 24 and 36 oz steaks (see menu), which is what the owner originally was selling and referred to as his “Texas sized steaks”, before coming up with the challenge. Oh and if that weren’t enough…
Then, as you’re leaving you are forced to walk past this gauntlet, A a gelato, fresh fudge and pastries stand…
….even though this is technically in the front area right by the entrance to the restaurant area, I noticed most people bought from it just as they were leaving the store… to take home for later (so that your full stomach shouldn’t be the master of your eyes… which is kind of brilliant if you think about it from a marketing perspective)