I just watched a mildly entertaining B-movie of two Arkansas couples headed for a weekend in Vegas. Enroute, they stopped off at the Big Texan in Amarillo where one of the guys wanted to eat the world-famous 72-ounce steak. This is the 4-1/2 pounds of beef with all the sides that you get free if you can eat it all in one hour. The Big Texan is a legend to those of us who frequently haunt the Texas panhandle.
But it occurred to me that the Heart Attack Grill probably isn't any worse than that.
If you are a seriously big eater, you might already know about The Big Texan, where steaks are available in every size up to seventy-two ounces. That’s right: a four and a half pound hunk of grilled sirloin, accompanied by a salad, baked potato, and dinner roll. If you can clean your plate of everything but fat and gristle within one hour, you get your meal for free! Plus, you get your name inscribed on The Big Texan Honor Roll along with the nearly 5000 carnivores who have successfully ingested the ridiculously large hunk of beef since the free-meal offer began in 1960. Some 25,000 people have tried and failed. (If you do not finish it all, you pay $54 for the dinner.) A gentleman named Frank Pastore ate the whole thing in 9-1/2 minutes; Klondike Bill, a professional wrestler, ate two steak dinners in one hour back in the 1960s. The oldest person to do it was a sixty-nine year old grandmother; the youngest, an eleven-year-old boy.
We recently arrived in Amarillo, ready to tackle the challenge. Then the waitress said that anyone who picks up the seventy-two-ounce gauntlet must sit at a table on a stage in the center of the restaurant, where an illuminated scoreboard clock counts down the minutes. As you eat, you are scrutinized by the management, which makes sure you don’t share the meal and that you consume every bite except the inedible parts (of which the restaurant staff are the final arbiters). Daunted by the prospect of becoming a floor show, we demurred and ordered a mere eighteen-ounce Lone Star sirloin, a twenty-two ounce T-bone, and a mighty slab of prime rib with a cup of "au jus," which the waitress referred to as our "Oh, Jaws Sauce"! The meat was preceded by an order of “Texas hors d’oeuvre” that included rattlesnake chunks, calf fries (testicles), buffalo meatballs, and Texas caviar (black-eyed peas).
Despite the patent goofiness of this place, the steaks are quite delicious, and we’ll return to The Big Texan any time we’re traveling through the panhandle and feeling in need of a major protein fix. It is a big barn of a restaurant where beer is sold by the bucket (but there’s a four-drink limit just to keep the dining room civil), and where you can wile away the time by having a picture of yourself taken next to a stuffed bear or shooting popguns in a rifle gallery in the lobby. The souvenir menu is designed to resemble a hundred dollar bill. A true Texas eating experience!