Photographed by Ben Ritter.
It isn't hard to find a restaurant meal that packs in more calories, fat, or salt than recommended — but, when it comes to fitting staggering amounts of each into a single meal, a few restaurants soar above the rest.
Every year, the consumer-advocacy crusaders at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) "honor" these remarkable restaurants by compiling a roundup of the most awe-inspiringly bad-for-you dishes in the country. Yesterday, the nonprofit announced the 2014 winners of its Xtreme Eating awards, and each meal lives up to the title.
Red Robin's Monster burger, for example, is not for the faint of heart (or stomach). Garnished with bacon, melted cheese, and fried onions, the burger boasts a cool 1,670 calories — but, wait, there's more: Each is served with Bottomless Steak Fries, a.k.a. as many 370-calorie servings of French fries as the walls of your stomach can contain. Throw in a Monster Salted Caramel Milkshake and the 1,500 calories that come with it, and you've got a meal that serves up 3,540 calories, 69 grams of saturated fat (more than three days' worth), and 6,280 milligrams of sodium (four days' worth). It’s "like eating seven McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers washed down with a quart of Coke," notes CSPI.
Or, if you're in the mood for something Southern, you can head to Joe's Crab Shack for the Big Hook Up Platter. According to the restaurant, this single dish features "seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs...served with ranch" as well as "flaky white fish hand dipped in a classic Samuel Adams beer batter...served with fries" plus "jumbo shrimp hand-dipped in shredded coconut with pineapple plum sauce for dipping" not to mention the "plump shrimp hand-stuffed with crab" and the hushpuppies and the coleslaw (to make sure you get in your leafy greens?). This particular menu item clocks in at 3,280 calories, 50 grams of saturated fat, and 7,610 milligrams of sodium (that's five days' worth).
Red Robin and Joe's Crab Shack may be heavyweights, but this year, one chain broke away from the competition. The Cheesecake Factory took home three of the nine Xtreme Eating awards, earning a special "XXXtreme Eating award" from CSPI. The restaurant's most extreme offering: its "Bruléed French Toast," which consists of "extra-thick slices of rustic French bread baked and grilled golden brown" that are stuffed with custard filling, then "topped with powdered sugar and served with maple-butter syrup with bacon or grilled ham." Hello, breakfast — and hello, 2,780 calories, 2,230 milligrams of sodium, 24 teaspoons of sugar, and 93 grams of saturated fat. (For reference, someone who eats 2,000 calories a day is advised to consume no more than 112 grams of saturated fat a week.) CSPI crunched the numbers and concluded that eating this French-toast-on-steroids is the equivalent of downing "14 slices of Aunt Jemima Homestyle French Toast stuffed with 2 1/2 (8 oz) tubs of Kraft Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese Spread." We're just kind of impressed the restaurant fit all that onto one plate — let alone that anyone could fit it into one stomach.
Keep in mind, though: Just because you aren't dining at one of the restaurants "honored" by the Xtreme Eating awards doesn't mean you're safe from ordering a nutritional shitshow. "The sad truth is that it’s not hard to find Xtreme Eating winners," CSPI pointed out. "Virtually every chain has viable contenders." Fortunately, while many restaurants may operate by the words "Bigger is better," that doesn't mean we have to eat by them.