And some mighty fine vittles
Amarillo sits smack dab in the middle of the Texas Panhandle, that peninsula of Lone Star territory that stabs into that tiny sliver of Western Oklahoma and is nuzzles the New Mexico border. It is the fourteenth most populous city in the state, the largest in the Texas Panhandle and the seat of Potter County. It’s also home to the Big Texan Steak Ranch—an over-the-top dude ranch restaurant/motel/tourist destination. And they really pull out all the stops when it comes to Texas-sized over-indulgence.
The Big Texan has been featured on scores of foodie programs and is constant website fodder for those interested in big beef feasting shot through with a hearty helping of cowboy atmosphere. It has become a mecca for thousands passing through on Interstate-40 having a desire to take a peek into the Texan mystique. And the Big Texan takes every opportunity to let you play ranch hand, at least for one evening.
The Steak Ranch is most famous for its 72-ounce steak challenge that started in 1960. Known as The Texas King, this 4.5-pound chunk of dead bovine is yours free if you can eat the entire meal in one hour or less. The entire meal consists of that slab of steer, a baked potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, a salad and a roll with butter (yeah, don’t forget that pat of butter!). If you fail (and more than 40,000 people have) the dinner will run ya $72. Back in 1962, pro-wrestler Klondike Bill (weighing in at a respectful 378 pounds himself) consumed two of The Texas Kings in under an hour. The current record holder is Joey Chestnut who set the bar back in 2008 when he blazed through the entire meal in 8.52 minutes—that’s some major chowing. And he was from Californya!
But during my latest visit I wasn’t there to partake of the beef so much as to imbibe on the Ranch’s recently established brewery. Yep, handcrafted beer, brewed on site with the Big Texan even being selected as one of the top ten places in the world to have a beer by DRAFT Magazine. So after a quick phone call to make arrangements, I hopped into the provided limo for the free ride over.
Now the limo “has” seen better days. But my chauffeur Roger (a carpenter during his day-job) showed up in a classic plaid, pearl-button shirt and sporting a cowboy hat, providing a toothy grin and friendly banter. After we arrived and before Roger left, I had him lay on the limo’s horn, one that delivers an electronic bull bellow that goes so well with the set of longhorns mounted to the vehicle’s hood.
While waiting for my table in the main dining hall, I took a stool at the bar and ordered up my first Big Texan brew, a Honey Blonde Ale, 27-ounces of frothy creaminess for a mere 7-dollars. Icy cold, it was gone long before my table was ready. My second mug of choice was the Texas Red Amber Ale, a bready malt with caramel undertones that was just as flavorful as my first. The printed menu lists 11 unique brews with names set to match the tone of the establishment, including Rattlesnake IPA and Whoop Your Donkey (no kidding), a Double IPA that carries a “whooping” 9.1 ABV. They also have a few seasonal flavors that rotate throughout the year. They even have gallon and ½ gallon “growlers” of the suds that you can take home for $26 and $15 respectively.
Half way through my second 27, my table was ready. The main dining hall (you can eat at the bar but the real action is inside) is Bonanza on steroids with a mass collection of critters heads hanging from every available wall, huge wagon-wheel chandeliers and an efficient wait staff of cute cowgirls and lean cowboys all in proper attire. Encouraged by more than a quart of beer, I decided to properly extend my decadent evening and ordered a full batch of Mountain Oysters (like the menu states, “If you thinks it’s seafood, go with the shrimp”). That’s right a heaping plate of meaty bull testicles breaded and fried to perfection. I took my waiter’s suggestion and followed that with a 12 oz. Double Cut Big Texan Filet, reported to the most tender steak in the house. By the time that arrived, I was ready for beer sample #3 and chose the Palo Duro Pale Ale, light and smooth (I had a limo ride back to my digs so I felt it within limits).
A trio of musicians wandered the tables, stopping to play western favorites. These singing cowboys were the same three that serenaded me four years ago (they’ve been performing here for 11 years) with the only difference being the fiddle player now has to drag around a bottle of oxygen. A large table full of visitors from Spain (all wearing tiny matching cowboy hats) eventually talked one of their amigos into competing in The Texas King competition and soon they were all gathered around the elevated eating platform, snapping photos of Eddie from Spain like he was some modern day gladiator who had taken the quest to vanquish the beast (a 72-oz. beast). Thirty minutes into the battle, Eddie was looking a little overwhelmed but it was all in fun. Hopefully all his friends pooled their funds to help pay that $72 tab.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is fun, quirky and well worth the stop. It also has a shooting arcade, beer garden, a 54-unit motel, gift shop and homemade candy store. But be prepared, you can drop some bucks here. My little culinary adventure set me back more than $56 before the tip. But that’s a small price tag when you consider the big bucket of balls, the best fillet in town and 81-ounces of handcrafted adult beverages all served up with true Big Texan flair. Yee-haw, pardner.