To some, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s annual Xtreme Eating awards are a reminder of how some restaurant meals can pack thousands of calories, oodles of saturated fat, and piles of sodium on a single plate. To others, the awards make up a to-try list of over-the-top menu offerings. Both will find plenty of sugary, fatty, salty treats to study with scorn, concern, curiosity, lust, or awe.
Perennial Xtreme Eating favorite The Cheesecake Factory did not disappoint this year, accounting for a full 1/3 of the meals on the list. In fact, it’s the only restaurant to have multiple winners (or losers, depending on your point of view). Other chain faves represented in the 2014 awards include Red Robin, Famous Dave’s, Joe’s Crab Shack, and Maggiano’s.
Enough talking. Let’s eat.
The Cheesecake Factory: Bruléed French Toast (with optional bacon)
• Calories: 2,780
• Sat. Fat: 93g
• Sodium: 2,230
Before anyone goes and blames the added bacon for the high calorie count, CSPI says the side of cured pork only adds 200 calories. Thus, the “Extra Thick Slices of Rustic French Bread Baked and Grilled Golden Brownm” and, oh yeah, filled with custard and served with a huge helping of butter-infused syrup, on its own still adds up to more than 2,500 calories.
“Would you eat 14 slices of Aunt Jemima frozen Homestyle French Toast stuffed with 2.5 8-oz. tubs of Kraft Philadelphia Original Cream Cheese Spread?” asks the CSPI. “Well, you pretty much just did.”
And there’s an even higher-calorie version of this meal at the Factory — the 2,900-calorie French Toast Napoleon, which is the “Bruléed French Toast Stacked with Strawberries, Pecans and Chantilly Cream.”
Red Robin: A.1 Peppercorn Monster Burger, with Steak Fries and Monster Salted Caramel Milkshake
• Calories: At least 3,540
• Sat. Fat: 69g
• Sodium 6,280mg
Red Robin has all sorts of burgers for those looking to chow down, but the A.1. Peppercorn is a particularly extreme offering, topped with “hardwood-smoked bacon, melted Pepper-Jack, A.1. Peppercorn Spread, tomatoes and crispy onion straws,” which are basically fried breaded onion strips.
The sizable sandwich can be made a “Monster” by doubling up on the 6-oz. beef patty. And if that weren’t enough, it comes with “Bottomless Steak Fries” for those who want more.
The Monster A.1. burger alone is 1,670 calories. Then throw on at least another 370 calories for each serving of fries you eat.
But you’ve got to have something to drink, so why not balance out your savory burger and fries with a Red Robin Classic milkshake, and make it a Monster, which means it comes with a refill tin full of extra shake.
Eat all this and you’ve likely consumed more than 1.5 days’ worth of calories, more than 3 days’ worth of saturated fat and four days’ worth of sodium.
CSPI says this is “like eating seven McDonald’s Double Cheeseburgers washed down with a quart of Coke,” and that you’d need 12 hours of brisk walking to burn the calories off.
Famous Dave’s: The Big Slab
• Calories: 2,770
• Sat. Fat: 54g
• Sodium: 4,320mg
This plate of spareribs lives up to its name, yielding nearly 1.5 pounds of meat. And all that meat — not to mention the sauce in which it’s slathered — comes at a cost to your diet, especially when you throw in the cornbread muffin and choice of two sides.
The ribs, along with fries and baked beans comes out to nearly 3,000 calories, and that’s without counting whatever beverage you’re having with your meal.
This might be the meal if you’ve got a lot of land and little motivation to mow, as CSPI estimates it would take about 7.5 hours of pushing that mower around to keep these spareribs from contributing to your spare tire.
BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse: Small Deep Dish Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza
• Calories: 2,160
• Sat. Fat: 30g
• Sodium: 4,680mg
With “Grilled garlic chicken, Applewood smoked bacon, jack and cheddar cheese, red onions, diced tomatoes and a drizzle of ranch,” this 9″ pizza packs a lot of punch into a small pie.
Just one of these pizzas is the same as eating three Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizzas, reckons the CSPI.
Chevys: Chevys Super Cinco Combo
• Calories: 1,920
• Sat. Fat: 36g
• Sodium: 3,950
This mega-sampler, with “Two enchiladas: one beef, one chicken, a Crispy or Soft Beef Taco, a hand-rolled Pork Tamale and a handcrafted Chile Relleno,” gives you a a taste of several items on the Chevys menu. Oh, and it also comes with “Fresh Mex rice, our signature sweet corn tamalito and choice of homemade Beans a la Charra or Refried Beans made with bacon or Vegetarian Black Beans.”
Assuming you only drink water with this meal and don’t gorge on the free chips and salsa at Chevys, you’ll only need 3.5 hours of playing tennis to burn these calories; chances are you probably won’t feel like it when you’re done eating.
The Cheesecake Factory: Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic
• Calories: 2,410
• Sat. Fat: 63g
• Sodium: 1,370mg
This year’s second Cheesecake Factory meal sounds rather pleasant — “Bow-Tie Pasta, Chicken, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pancetta, Peas and Caramelized Onions in a Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce” — and it very well may be (we haven’t tried it, so we can’t say). But that cream sauce and the bountiful helping of pasta means you’re getting your full day’s worth of calories in one bowl.
Joe’s Crab Shack: The Big “Hook” Up
• Calories: 3,280
• Sat. Fat: 50g
• Sodium: 7,610mg
Another sampler that is not for the calorie-conscious, this platter with Joe’s Great Balls of Fire (“seafood and crab balls full of jalapeños and cream cheese coated in panko breadcrumbs…served with ranch”), Fish & Chips (“flaky white fish hand dipped in a classic Samuel Adams beer batter…served with fries”), Coconut Shrimp (“jumbo shrimp hand dipped in shredded coconut with pineapple plum sauce for dipping”), Crab Stuffed Shrimp (“plump shrimp hand stuffed with crab”), Hushpuppies, and Coleslaw, has the second-highest calorie count on the list (and the highest if you take away the Red Robin milkshake from that meal).
It also has a full five days’ worth of sodium.
By comparison, you could two full Admiral’s Feasts (fried shrimp, scallops, clam strips, flounder, along with fries and biscuits) at Red Lobster and consume the same calories, but but less than half the saturated fat.
Maggiano’s Little Italy: Prime New York Steak Contadina Style
• Calories: 2,420
• Sat. Fat: 66g
• Sodium: 5,260mg
What do you get when you take a steak that is already 1,250 calories and serve “Contadina style,” which apparently means it comes with with “two Italian Sausage links, Crispy Red Vesuvio-Style Potatoes, Roasted Red & Yellow Peppers, Roasted Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Steak Jus, and Garlic Butter”?
You get a meal that is the equivalent of eating nine McDonald’s Quarter Pounder beef patties, with a Cheeseburger on the side.
The Cheesecake Factory: Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake Cheesecake
• Calories: 1,500
• Sat. Fat: 43g
• Sugar: 21 teaspoons
If you’re going to eat at The Cheesecake Factory, you’ve got to eat cheesecake, right?
[Ed. Note: I'm being told you are not legally obliged to consume cheesecake at the restaurant.]
What does it say when the least calorific meal on this list is on the dessert menu? But even though this is the one of the few award-winning offerings that doesn’t have a full day’s worth of calories, it’s still going to require 4.5 hours of aerobics to burn off this slice of cheesecake.
It makes you wonder how the Big Bang Theory crew stays so slender eating out at the Factory all the time.