Those who know nothing about Amarillo, Texas, might assume it's nothing more than the sort of town where cross-country drivers get gasoline, stretch their legs and dream of being home. Although the Panhandle city is an ideal location to fill 'er up, there's one, shall we say "big," reason to visit Amarillo: the Big Texan Steak Ranch, brewery and motel, whose billboards entice travelers from hundreds of miles away with its boasts of oversize steaks, potent beers and Old West kitsch. Rather than wonder why a restaurant would promote itself so widely, you'll marvel at the ads luring customers with a free 72-ounce steak dinner for those who can eat the meal within an hour. The tab: One night at the Big Texan Motel costs about $90 during summer, while dinner for two (with drinks) can be had for about $60.
The Texas aesthetic is on full display at the Big Texan Motel (7701 Interstate 40 East, Amarillo;  372-5000, http://www.bigtexan.com), thanks to cedar walls, Western paintings and saloon doors on some of the bathrooms. Sure, not all of the in-room telephones work (the front-desk attendant said they were fried due to extreme heat), but that's what cellphones are for.
If the free 72-ounce steak sounds tempting, consider this: You'd better be really, really hungry, because diners also must consume a baked potato, salad, dinner rolls and three fried shrimp to win the challenge. For those who don't want to go up a weight class in one meal, there are other meaty options, including smoked baby back ribs, a barbecue brisket sandwich and chicken-fried steak. The Big Texan also brews more than 10 beers on-site in a refrigerated semi-truck, so order the $12 sampler. The 10 four-ounce servings are the ideal way for indecisive guests to enjoy the raspberry wheat, the rattlesnake IPA, the pecan porter and the whiskey barrel stout. If steak and beer aren't enough, the Big Texan also has a shop that sells fresh homemade fudge (samples always available).
Even if steak isn't your thing, there are plenty of reasons to stop at the Big Texan. The first is the live rattlesnake in the gift shop, because how often do you see a live rattlesnake a few feet from coffee mugs printed with the Texas map? The second is the shooting gallery, a throwback to classic Americana where you try to kill zombies, Dracula, skeletons and Frankenstein's monster. Then there's the outdoor beer garden with a stage for one-man blues band Stew Moss, a taxidermy bobcat, a stagecoach, an oversize rocking chair and an 18-foot-tall Big Texan boot.
The lesson learned
The Big Texan isn't just a roadside attraction. It's a destination, which is why the business plans to move a quarter-mile down the highway by October 2017. This move is influenced by the fact that the Big Texan loses about 60 customers a day because of the paucity of parking and the one-hour wait at the restaurant.
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