"Find out how much you can eat on one tank of fuel," they said. "It will be fun," they said. If the car you're given to do this is an A7 TDI, it has a huge fuel tank and gets better miles per gallon than a Japanese econosedan you should prepare for a world of hurt.
If the city you're trying to do this in is Austin and you have out-of-towners in tow ready to eat all of the Texan things, you're extra screwed. We're best known for barbecue, Tex-Mex and heavy, cheesy, fried and/or buttery things. The Texas State Fair in Dallas gets more attention for who can fry the most ludicrous, terrible, this-will-give-you-the-'beetus thing than it does for any of the actual fair attractions.
You will die if you attempt something like this in one day here with this car. You'll die happy, but you'll die. So, I ended up spreading out my pain over multiple days.
(Full disclosure: Audi somehow trusted me not to return this car with 944 mystery fluids all in the hatch...and this was the week before a LeMons race. Anyway, it's their car.)
Round One: Meat Coma
The original suggestion was barbecue. How much barbecue can you eat on one tank of diesel?
Problem is, the best barbecue I've had — short of driving up to Stanley's in Tyler for RIBS!, glorious RIBS! — is right there in Austin proper. Sadly, I didn't have a free day to make that four-and-a-half-hour drive (one way) to the northeast corner of the state, so I started off with a solid bet closer to home: John Mueller Meat Company.
Now operating out of a trailer in East Austin, J. Mueller's specialty is a gigantic beef rib that is the size of Rutledge Wood's head, perfectly seasoned and smoked to perfection. The other meats—especially the brisket and the sausage—are fantastic as well, but the defining pièce de meatsistance to me are the beef ribs, so that's what I came for.
One obstacle stood between myself and meat nirvana: downtown Austin. Downtown is a lovely place to walk around and explore, but in a car, it becomes a festering pit of confused tourists, narrow lanes, one-way streets, questionable parking jobs and terrible driving. It's the last place in the world I'd want to take a large car.
It's a good thing that the A7 didn't feel like a large car.
What the A7 has in size is compensates with in toys. Flashing lights on the mirrors let you know there's a car in your blind spot, letting you know when it's a bad idea to change lanes. Cameras in the front and rear keep you from plowing into curbs, pedestrians, varmints and other hazards.
It was nimble and had decent feedback in all of the controls as soon as I switched the car's settings over to "Dynamic." ("Comfort" felt uncomfortably numb and disconnected.) It was maneuverable. Most of all, it was a total surprise. Most large cars I've driven feel unwieldy the second you hit heavy traffic or narrow roads. This? This car was perfectly at home wafting through downtown at lunch hour.
Thus, barbecue acquired.
The pits at John Mueller Meat Co. aren't a big fiery circle out front to wow all the gullible tourists and hide the shame of meh meat. Rather, they're tucked inside a cage at the corner of the lot. It's a food trailer. You're here to eat, not soak in the atmosphere. If you want consistently smoky, tender meatstuffs with the kind of crisp, peppery bark around the edge that defines Texas' 'cue—go here.
Mock my single rib order all you want, but that single beef rib is multiple pounds worth of meat in one smoked-to-a-pulp package.
The sauce is a fabulously oniony stew of tangy happiness, but you don't really need it. Good BBQ doesn't need sauce. I like sauce for its texture, but to be honest, the pink-hued smoky ring around the edge of the meat usually holds enough flavor for me if they've done it right.
The sides here are good, too, but seeing the giant rib plopped onto my tray was enough to convince me that the only "vegetable" I needed was a small hunk of cheddar.
The gargantuan beef ribs are so tender that attempting to eat them neatly off the bone often results in this:
Nobody ever said barbecue wasn't messy to eat.
The second problem with this plan came as soon as I got a quarter of the way through my gigantic order: I'm not a huge eater. I have the approximate stomach capacity of a small canary.
Worse yet, I was hoping to do a LeMons race the next weekend. No time for a real, prolonged meat coma. No room to grow a BBQ gut that would make climbing in and out of the car a nightmare. Nope.
I tried. I really did. I powered through as much meat as I could handle without drooping over into my food at the table.
In the end—with apologies to Adam Richman—food won.
I not only had enough rib-meat left over to feed Uganda, but I was pretty solid on my meat fix for a while. Barbecue is one of those foods where I either eat the good stuff, or I hold out until I get the good stuff. I've filled my quota of delicious meaty goodness for the next year or so...or until I forget and want some barbecue again.
Approximate miles travelled: 30 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: Eigh—zzzzzzzz/10. Huh? Oh, uh. Zzzzzzzzz.
Round Two: Gourmet Munchies
I can't quite hold up my head right now. Is it possible to OD on meat? I think it might be possible to OD on meat. I'm so drowsy. I need coffee. Espresso. Espresso coffee with a Red Bull chaser.
Next was a small gathering at the local Audi dealership where several personalities from the world of endurance racing were set to make an appearance. Yay, LMP1s in Austin. Yay!
East Side King, the food truck branch of Paul Qui's Asian fusion eatery empire, was the caterer. Qui — with a background that includes one of my favorite restaurants of all time (Uchiko) and some Bravo reality TV competition thing I never watched — puts out food trailer eats that would be at home at an afternoon tea. There's even bite-size finger sandwiches on the menu. They're the most indulgent finger sandwiches you'll ever have, but I recognize that size and shape. That's a finger sammich, no doubt.
I was still full from the ribpocalypse, so I opted for something small and light. It was a delicately fried chicken dish called the Thai Chicken Karaage, the upside of which being that it was light and crisp without being greasy or heavy, plus the spice of Sriracha and fresh cut onion and herbs helped wake me up a bit.
Even my LeMons team mascot, Fluffy Bunny, ate well. East Side King's munchies are apparently light enough for a stuffed rabbit to handle, and I know that having our LeMons bunny fed by actual Le Mans drivers (André Lotterer and Loïc Duval) adds at least 5 imaginary horsepower to the LeMons 944.
Lo and behold, I discovered that John Hindhaugh — voice of Radio Le Mans — races a 924, too. I'm tellin' ya, all the cool kids are getting wedgie Porsches. (Well, some cool kids plus me.)
Unfortunately, once again, I'd only eaten up about 20 miles for the day, and the trip-o-meter was mocking me with over 500 miles left 'til empty.
So, I took the scenic route back to central Austin via Highway 360, the fun uphill part of RM 2222 and through the twisty part of Shoal Creek Blvd., effectively making a giant spiral around my apartment before I actually got in the general vicinity [exact location not shown on map]. Take THAT, huge fuel tank.
The A7 was just as comfortable eating up highway miles on 360 as it was in town. The heated seats made my aching back happy, even if the lumbar support must have fallen victim to a portly dude who had this car before me. The ridiculous amount of readily available, mid-range torque made the rest of me happy. And for once, I was in a car with a lot of extra toys that didn't thoroughly annoy me.
Admittedly, I am a bit of an automotive luddite: if it's not light, simple and only what I need, I tend to be a bit of a curmudgeon. I get cars to drive them, so if any of the non-driving-related items are hard to figure out or a nuisance, I tend to get very frustrated with them very quickly and start whining that I'd like my Lancer back.
The controls on the steering wheel and the giant-knob-controlled interface in the center of the car are so intuitive that even I could figure out how to tinker with the radio and other settings within five minutes of hopping into the car.
Almost everything you'd want to change while driving is configurable with the buttons on the steering wheel. Most of the menus are viewable on the screen in front of the driver's face, too. All of this meant that the next 500 or so miles I still have on this tank of diesel would at least be tolerable, if not actually pleasant.
This long route home is probably cheating, but I don't care. I'd eaten enough little Thai chicken bits and who knows what else out of other dishes that folks were sharing that I still had no hope of leaving this challenge without a few extra pounds.
Approximate miles travelled: 60 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 2/10
Round Three: The White Napkin of Defeat
Day one of ALMS/WEC weekend! Rain! Racecars! IN THE RAIN! Today was supposed to be AWESOME!
Then I found out about a major setback with the LeMons car.
I had a salad in the Media Center and a long, infuriated cry.
I even waterlogged my camera so that the shutter speed wheel quit working, but let's be honest—that was the least of my worries.
SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH MY RACE CAR.
I lucked out on the way out of COTA, though: I got lost trying to find an alternate route to the airport! That ate up a few extra miles.
Needless to say, between the lateness and the borked race car, the LeMons crew chief I picked up from the airport may have been even less amused than I was—and that's no small feat.
Approximate miles travelled: 70 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 0/10
Life Pain-O-Meter: I don't even want to talk about it.
Round Four: Magical Lard Sauce!
Day two of ALMS/WEC. Lunch came with a spectacular view of the pit straight leading up to turn 1 and the pits below, thanks to the Audi press folks.
It was fairly standard suite food—chicken, salmon, salad, etc.—but luckily, the munchies just kept on coming. After the main lunch course came out was dessert. After dessert was an array of meats, cheeses and dips. This is clearly the way to watch a race if you didn't eat much the day before.
Pardon me for neglecting to take any pictures of suite food, but I was a bit distracted by the view outside.
Having suite food just meant that by the time dinner rolled around, I was full anyway. That being said, when my LeMons crew guy mentioned that he had a buddy staying up in Round Rock who'd like to grab a bite to eat, I was all over it. I could think of no better way to get rid of excess diesel fuel in the A7.
My pick for eats up north? Jack Allen's Kitchen, a southern food joint that uses as many local ingredients as possible. Like all good southern food establishments, they come up with new and creative things to deep fry. In fact, part of the menu purports to be "Chicken Fried Anything:"
Lies! I can think of additional things to chicken-fry.
Regardless, a chicken fried steak sounded perfect. While I opted to start with a salad because of food overload throughout the day, what came afterwards was a monumental tribute to Paula Deen's arteries:
I received a perfect chicken fried steak, with a coating that was crisp all the way down to the hammered, tender meat beneath it. You know, because steak itself just isn't enough—we need to deep fry it and serve it with gravy in order for it to be worthy.
Confession time: I usually don't like gravy. I spent enough time out of state to be able to say this and mean it: it's bland lard sauce.
But, hark! I see spices besides flour, black pepper and yucky gloops of sadness! The presence of green chiles in this particular gravy caught my interest.
So, I tried it, and it was good. This gravy was more buttery than most white gravies, and the chilies gave it a much-needed kick of actual flavor besides "I think this is actually papier-mâché goop."
If you stack all the green chiles on top of your chicken-fried steak, it's like a deep-fried butter-lard-chile meatsplosion in your mouth.
Approximate miles travelled: 77 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 9/10, +42 Powers of LARD
Round Five: Hoon the Fuel Away
After last night's lardstravaganza, I was feeling about as puffy as my LeMons team's mascot bunnies. Worse yet, even with multiple trips across Austin, I still had about half a tank of diesel to use.
Drifting was listed on the morning's schedule for day three of the ALMS/WEC weekend at Circuit of the Americas. I like watching people go sideways and kill tires, but I can't exactly ask them super-awkward questions about the future of sportscar endurance racing in America.
The drift show gave me an idea, though. If I wanted to have any hope of using up the rest of this tank of fuel, I'd have to do something more than putter around in traffic.
I must hoon this Audi.
It is my solemn duty to the good people of this world to hoon this car.
So, it was time for a detour: off to Harris Hill Road, a racetrack that is a nice thirty-eight miles or so out of the way.
I found one flaw with the iPhone connection as I set off on my mission for hoonage: it never wanted to pull up all of my songs. I could pull up folders—artists, genres, purchased songs, etc.—but I could never just tell it to bring up everything that was stored on my phone.
I also realized that my phone was still called "iPuffalump Quattro."
This, of course, matters little when you're trying to get the car sideways.
...which I was.
This, however, does matter:
After being stuck in a Jetta rental without any form of nannies-off button, "ESC OFF" was one of the first items I looked for on this car.
Spoiler up: +2 imaginary torques.
The A7 wasn't as quick around the track as its ridiculous amount of torque would suggest, but it was easy to toss around, flick the tail end out, and mash down the go pedal to straighten it all out again. For a long, heavy car, it was very forgiving.
It doesn't have a real handbrake—it has one of those stupid electronic handbrakes. While I didn't need the emergency brake to get sideways, I'm sure there are times when you'd want a real one. Rallycross. Tighter hairpins. Stopping your out of control vehicle if your electrical system shorts out. You know, emergency brake stuff.
Most of all, I can't pretend to be Michèle Mouton with a toggle switch, grr.
Another hindrance to The Hoon: Tiptronic in manual mode is still stupid Tiptronic as usual: "I know ze gear you want more than you do, mein dummkopf!" Wanna hold the gear you selected all the way around a corner? DE-NIED.
A funny thing happens when you leave it in regular ol' D, though: it usually holds the same gear throughout a corner. So, I let it make its own mind up about shifting, and many lulz were had.
Per the Datsun driver I went out on track with, the A7 will lift a wheel up and tripod in corners, too. And per my passenger, this was the happiest I'd been all weekend: while tossing around a luxobarge on track.
The sheer weight of the A7 overheated the tires rather quickly, though, but by then, I'd gotten down to just under a quarter tank of fuel.
Mission accomplished, and in plenty of time to catch the WEC race.
Approximate miles travelled: 76 miles + 40 minutesish worth of track time (???, profit)
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 0/10 (driver); 4/10 (passenger)
Round Six: You Can't Say No to Queso
Take everything Top Gear complained about when they were discussing Mexican food, turn it up to 11, and that's Tex-Mex. More cheese. More spice. Very strong margaritas. More of absolutely everything that's bad for you, but so good to eat.
I just walked around COTA all day shooting pictures of race cars in the series I most wanted to see come to Austin. I hooned an A7 TDI. I even got injury advice from Allan McNish. I had a pretty good day, if we completely ignore the broken LeMons car (which I tried very hard to do).
The only thing that could make it better is my favorite food in the entire world: queso.
Queso is cheese—specifically, cheese dip. It's a melty amalgamation of cheese, peppers, onions, tomatoes and sometimes meat. Some places even add a scoop of guacamole for extra ridiculousness.
So, off to Trudy's, one of Austin's Tex-Mex strongholds. I'm close enough to finishing off a tank of diesel, so I can't think of anything better to finish off my stomach, once and for all.
The salsa here is so good that I almost don't need to order queso. Just kidding—I always need to order queso.
Anyway, the red salsa has a decent heat to it, while the green salsa is oniony, tart and sweet. If there's ever a time when I go to Trudy's and don't finish off the green salsa, there's probably something wrong with me.
Enchiladas sounded perfect right about now, too. Usually, I'll order cheese enchiladas, which is cheese inside a tortilla that's covered with cheese and sauce, and sometimes I'll get queso as the sauce (read: more cheese).
Trudy's has a far more diabolical creation: migas enchiladas. It's exactly what it sounds like: enchiladas filled with migas, a breakfast dish of scrambled eggs, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and bits of fried tortilla.
The migas enchiladas sound like they were the product of being directly north of a college campus, where all food must be combined into one terrible-for-you package that tastes irresistibly awesome.
The problem with Tex-Mex is that the endless chips and salsa feel a lot like the A7's endless fuel tank: you get so much that you don't hardly know what to do with yourself.
So, you eat and you eat and you eat until you feel like you need to be rolled out of the restaurant, and because much of the main course is cheese-based, you're going to need a nap, too.
Not that any of this is a bad thing. Hey, I could use more sleep.
After dinner, I napped en route to the secret hideout for the LeMons car—34 miles away (one way) at an undisclosed location south of Austin.
Apparently the A7's adaptive cruise control works really well at adjusting to the stopping cars in front of you. I'm glad I slept through my LeMons crew chief testing that out.
Approximate miles travelled: 90 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 10/10
Round Seven: Tacos for Breakfast
At this point, we've all eaten enough to need to pass out somewhere. Luckily, a full-size person CAN pass out in the A7's trunk!
Regardless, the tank's not quite empty yet, so it's taco time. Houndstooth Coffee and Tacodeli are in the same building as each other just down from this beauty, so that's as good a place as any to finish off the fuel tank and my belly.
Houndstooth gets my repeat business for two reasons. First off, they make one of the smoothest lattes in Austin. Secondly, the little cups fit in the Lancer's cupholders. Mitsubishi didn't have Big Gulps in mind when they made my car. These lattes are just the right size.
Upon acquiring caffeine, I noticed that the tensioned fins in the A7's cupholders make even small cups a tight fit. This is great if you're trying to weaken the sides of a can to be better able to smash it against your forehead (...bro). It sucks, however, if you don't want to spill flaming hot liquid on yourself as you try to pry a coffee cup out.
Here's one of Tacodeli's photos of a breakfast taco. Why? Because we ate our tacos so fast that I didn't even think to hipstergram mine.
Breakfast tacos are one of the most perfect foods ever created—an über-convenient way to deliver breakfast foods like eggs, sausage and bacon into your mouth in an easy to handle, convenient and quick to devour package.
That being said, eggs are best served up warm. Eat 'em when you get 'em.
Regardless, Tacodeli's breakfast tacos are among my favorites in town. While their lunch tacos skew towards the gourmet, they stick to the basics for their breakfast tacos. Simple stuff like migas and egg/meat/potato/veggie build-a-taco combos are just done well. Perfectly fluffy eggs. Addictive salsas to go on top—the green salsa doña gets the most love, but my favorite is the bright orange habanero, a creamy blend of those sweet spicy peppers that goes especially well with eggs.
With breakfast came the end of the fuel tank—we went straight from tacos to put some diesel in the thing.
Approximate miles travelled: 20 miles
Gastrointestinal Pain-O-Meter: 5/10
I was actually a little sad to give the A7 TDI back. The A7 was unexpectedly easy to live with, hilarious to drive in anger and part of me wonders if all that torque could pull a 944.
That being said, after eating my way thorough 19 gallons of diesel, I probably didn't need to eat again for the rest of the week.
Photo credits: Tacodeli (tacos)