Our two poodles, Max and Maddie, are often greeted as ‘Salt’ and ‘Pepper’ by strangers they meet. Maddie is cream, Max is black, so I guess folks just naturally think table condiments when they see our two gorgeous poodles walking side by side. But if they were salt and pepper shakers, they’d be fancy ones.
You can tell how fancy a restaurant is by how they dispense salt and pepper. If it comes in small paper packages, you know you’re in a fast food place – if served in plastic white and gray shakers on the tabletop, it’s still quick food, but served on plates rather than wrapped in paper. It might be a “mom and pop” or a greasy spoon with its own daily blue plate special. Then there are those who fancy themselves a step above local yokel diners, who serve their seasonings in real glass table dispensers, like Big Tex Steakhouse, the place we ate at in Amarillo – it’s been around a while and plans to stick around a whole lot longer. Glass dispensers belly permanence.
At the top of the food chain are those restaurants that prefer to bestow freshly cracked pepper with a pepper mill handled by your server. “Fresh cracked pepper for your salad, madam?” While my Cooks Illustrated magazine assures that freshly cracked pepper is superior to the almost tasteless ground pepper, I sometimes wonder whether a restaurant serves its pepper this way for taste or because it’s a way of displaying good taste—a way of putting on airs – a kind of humble bragging rights, if you will.
Big Tex Steakhouse is a place for bestowing humble bragging rights on those who risk their wallets and their gullets. Those who eat a steak the size of a four and a half pound roast with all the trimming in sixty minutes can put their name on a chalkboard out front. They do their frenzied eating on an elevated spot in the middle of the restaurant to spark the table talk of nearby diners. If they eat it in an hour, it’s free. Otherwise, out come their wallets.
My son Kyle once won bragging rights at Big Tex, though not for eating steak. He was with a bunch of young Boy Scouts who were trying to dare each other into eating the jalapeno pepper always served alongside the steak. Tired of all their talking, Kyle bet the table he could down the pepper without drinking water for five minutes. But they’d have to pay him a dollar each when he succeeded. He quickly popped that bad boy in his mouth and acted like it was all in a day’s work for an almost Eagle Scout. He impressed those young Scouts by adopting an air of calm, while all the time, a raging fire sweltered inside his mouth. Long after the boys paid up, Kyle continued to pay for his bit of fancy as endless glasses of water could not quench the long after-burn of pepper juice. But I wonder. What about salt?