Free 72 oz. Steak!

Texas is known as a place for good steak. One of the places to get good deal on really good steak is the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. You can get a free Texas-sized portion of steak, 72 oz. there, with one condition: you have to finish it up with the side dishes in one hour. If you try it but you fail to finish it, it would cost you $72. More than 50,000 people had tried this challenge with about a fifth of them able to complete the feat.

We heard of this place on Travel Channel and Food Network programs. Even though my brother and I used to live in Texas for a couple of years, we never had any reason to drive through Amarillo, until our coast-to-coast trip. The Big Texan is located right on the side of Interstate 40, and they have a very big sign in front of the bright yellow building, so you can’t miss it.

We had been traveling quite a distance, starting in Holbrook, AZ, bright early in the morning. We decided to skip lunch after our visit to Santa Fe, NM, in order to make time to get to Amarillo to see the Cadillac Ranch before sunset. We did make it to Amarillo before it got dark, and after spending some time at the Cadillac Ranch, we’re ready to continue on and by then we’re pretty hungry as well. Great timing to go to a place known for its gigantic portion of meat.

The place was quite interesting. You’re welcomed by a giant cowboy boot outside on one side of the restaurant, and a big bull on the other side. As you get inside, the atmosphere was quite festive. There was a gift shop selling Texas and Route 66 memorabilias, nicely decorated hallways, and a big dining hall where the meals were served. In the middle of the dining hall there was a stage with a table and a digital timer. Looks like that’s where the challenger would eat in front of everyone. You can also see the open kitchen on one side of the restaurant with the grill cooking the steaks.

We were hungry, but we didn’t think we could do the 72 oz. challenge. But we did have the steaks; each of us ordered a 16 oz. prime rib. They were cooked nicely, medium rare to our order, and both of us thought it was delicious and worth skipping lunch for. We were seated pretty close to the open kitchen, so while eating we could also see the cooking staff grilling the steaks there.

Below is a photo taken outside the restaurant of the big bull advertising the free 72 oz. steak. You can see a Ford Excursion, the largest SUV you could get at that time in the US, parked next to it as a comparison of size. They say everything is big in Texas, and this place surely confirmed that.

Big Texan

The World’s Best Known Roadside Sculpture

Few miles west outside the city of Amarillo, Texas, on Interstate 40, if you pay attention on south side of the road, you can see an interesting artwork in the middle of the field. It’s the Cadillac Ranch, a sculpture built as a tribute to one of the most iconic American cars. In 1974, a group of artists called the Ant Farms built this ‘sculpture’ by taking ten Cadillac automobiles ranging from 1949 to 1963 models and burying them halfway into the ground nose first. A local millionaire named Stanley Marsh 3 let the artists built the sculpture on his land. In 1997, the sculpture was moved about 2 miles away to where it is located today to accomododate the growth of the city of Amarillo. Today the sculpture still remains there on the side of the Interstate, and anyone is welcomed to stop by and check out the sculpture. In addition, writing graffiti on the cars with spray paint is also encouraged, so you would surely see something different when you visit it at different time.

This was one of the landmarks that we thought we should try to find and see in person during our coast-to-coast road trip. But spotting it was not easy as we had never been there before and we had been driving for quite a while since we left Santa Fe, NM, with a brief stop in Tucumcari. We also wanted to make sure we get there before it gets dark.

As we got closer to Amarillo, I asked my brother to look to the side of the road for any sign of the sculpture. Finally we saw several cars parked on the side of the frontage road on the side of the Interstate highway. In a distance, we saw the 10 Cadillac cars that made up the Cadillac Ranch. We found the nearest exit and parked our car on the road side, and went through the unlocked gate into the pasture and joined several other people who were also checking out the sculpture.

While we were there admiring this unique artwork, we saw a group of people coming. It looked like a wedding party as we saw many of them dressed up, and sure enough the bride and groom came not long after. They came there to do some photoshoot near the sculpture. Quite an interesting location for a wedding photoshoot. I suppose beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and those seeing the photos would surely identify the place as something unique to Amarillo. Yet another quirky find on Route 66.

Cadillac Ranch

IAH

When you travel, sometimes you’re faced with unexpected circumstances that alter your travel plans. When such situation occurs, your reaction to what happened could make a difference in determining how good or bad the travel experience becomes.

Last week I traveled to Houston, TX, to attend a friend’s wedding. The trip was a short one; I left on the last flight out of Washington Dulles Friday night and was going to come back on the early Sunday afternoon flight.

Saturday was a beautiful day, perfect for meeting another friend for brunch, and then attending my friend’s wonderful outdoor wedding in the late afternoon and evening.

On Sunday, I was invited by my friend’s parents for a brunch at their home. My flight home was scheduled at 2 pm, so I thought I could stop by at the brunch, stay for a little bit, and still able to make my flight without any problem. I had a wonderful time meeting my friend’s family and friends at the brunch, but I left a little later than I planned. I still made it to the airport about one hour before my scheduled departure, and it all still went according to the plan, until when I reached the security check line.

The security check line was very long, though it was continually moving. I looked at the clock and at the time I entered the line, it was still 45 minutes to the scheduled departure time. Still some hope, I thought. We slowly inching through the line, and time passed by.. We passed the time when my flight started boarding, and by the time I reached the end of the line, I hear on the public announcement the last call to board for my flight.

I tried to rush going through the line, and made a mistake that I never made before: I took my laptop out of my backpack, but I put the backpack and the laptop in the same bin. That meant the whole thing had to go through the x-ray machine again.

After that slight delay, I packed my stuff, and ran towards my gate (which of course happened to be the one all the way at the end of the terminal). On the way, I felt things in my backpack shifting, and as I slowed down, my laptop fell off. I forgot to zip up the backpack’s main compartment at the security check. My laptop seemed to be okay, so I packed it up, and continued my run to the gate.

I arrived at the gate with the jetway door still open, and but unfortunately they had already closed the plane’s door even though there were still few minutes to the departure time. The gate agent checked for the next available flight to Washington Dulles, and she said the next flight at 5 pm looked full, and the 7 pm looked okay. I had to go to the customer service line to get to either of those flights. At the customer service line, the agent got me confirmed on the 7 pm flight, and put me on standby list for the 5 pm flight. That meant 3-5 hour wait at the airport.

I went to the departure gate for the 5 pm flight, which was located in another terminal. So I had to take the airport train to get there. But I had plenty of time to get there, so no rush at all.

When I reached the gate, I still had more than 2 hours until the boarding time of the 5 pm flight, so I decided to walk around the terminal. I had never been to IAH before, so this was a new experience to me. Terminal E was the newest terminal at IAH, so it looked pretty nice, and it had good selection of stores.

As I looked through the store directory, I saw that there was a Pappadeaux restaurant in this terminal. Pappadeaux is a Texas-based Cajun, seafood restaurant chain. I liked going there when I come to Texas. A friend reminded me before I left for the trip to eat there while in Houston. I thought since this trip was so short, I wouldn’t have time to do that. Well, it turned out that I would be able to go there after all.

So I decided to spend my free time before the flight at Pappadeaux. The restaurant at IAH was located on a deck above the concourse. I was seated at a table with a nice view of the terminal at the lower level. I ordered a Bayou sweet tea (a cocktail based on the flavors of the southern sweet tea and lemonade) and a very nice oven-roasted Chilean sea bass served on a bed of spinach and with roasted tomatoes and crab meat gratin. Wonderful meal — one I wouldn’t have had I made my original flight schedule.

After the nice meal, I walked back to the gate, and saw another friend of the groom who was on his way back home as well. He’s actually flying to DC area as well, but to different airport. He was on standby for a flight earlier than his scheduled one. We had a good conversation talking about our past experiences traveling. His flight came up before mine, so he left to go to his gate and I stayed at my gate waiting for the boarding time.

As we reached the boarding time, I checked with the gate agent to find out my chance for making this flight. The gate agent said the flight was oversold by 2 seats. That didn’t sound good for a standby passenger, but she said stay around the gate anyway to see if I could make it. I waited, and I heard the gate agent announcing the oversold situation and asking for volunteers to move to later flight.

After they boarded almost everyone, the gate agent had to calm down a couple of passengers who had to gate check their carry-on luggage since there was no more cabin storage space available. They were worried because they would be connecting at Dulles. I decided to wait until all of that was done before asking the gate agent about my chance on making the flight.

I was ready to hear her telling me that the flight was full and I had to go back to terminal B for the 7 pm flight. But it turned out that they had a couple of passengers volunteering to go on a later flight, and there was one spot open. It was a middle seat, and I had to gate check my carry-on luggage, but it didn’t matter as I made it on the flight.

So that was my unexpected afternoon experience at IAH. Looking back, there were many times that afternoon where I could’ve lost my temper, get stressed out, or annoyed with the circumstances. But I’m glad I didn’t, and the afternoon turned out alright. I arrived home few hours later than planned, but I was able to enjoy a nice meal while waiting for my flight.

I think the sayings “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “when life gives you lemons, … make lemonade” are good to remember when facing unexpected situations while traveling (or even in life in general).

I took the photo below at Pappadeaux just after my order was brought to the table. You can see my Bayou sweet tea and Chilean sea bass dish on the table. In the background you can see the giant swordfish in front of the restaurant’s entrance, and the airport gate downstairs and a couple of flight crew walking.

Meal at Pappadeaux