June 5th, 2007
Man, I’m HUNGRY. Can’t risk messin’ around with some unknown and untested burger joint that might try to pass off some teeny-tiny meat speck as a full-fledged burger. No, I’m-a gonna go with the Tried & True: Dangerous Dan’s it is.
Dangerous Dan’s Diner is one of those places where Reality collides with Legend. Some folks say it’s been around since the 1960s but really it opened in 1999. Some say Dangerous Dan is the man behind the counter but in fact “Dangerous Dan” is the owner’s grandfather who got his nickname not because he was some rough and tumble miner stomping in from the Klondike (a la Robert Service’s 1907 poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”) but because he enjoyed wrestling with his grandson.
Some of the myths, however, are true. The atmosphere of Dangerous Dan’s can be a little, shall we say, rough. Amid the ripped-out car seats which double as booths neighborhood characters mingle with drunks staggering in from Jilly’s, the strip club across the street. When the owner (James McKinnon) hired his first cook, he asked the cook if he could fight. As McKinnon puts it, “I can’t teach someone to fight, but I can always teach somebody how to cook.”
And cook they do: big delicious burgers that are taken to the extreme. 8 ounce burger not enough? Then go for an Elvis Burger with bacon, peanut butter and fried bananas. Or try The Big Kahuna Burger, with a pineapple slice, peameal bacon and mozzarella. Still not enough? Well, then, you better get The Coronary Burger Special: 2 8 oz Patties, 4 Slices of Bacon, 2 Slices of Cheddar and a Fried Egg on top, served with Fries and Gravy and a Can of Pop and, as it says on the menu, “Mayo as a garnish for sure!” Sixteen Ounces of Beef ain’t nothin’, you say? Then you want the 24 ounce Bulls Balls Burger, served with fries and a pop. Or... or you could step up to The Big Leagues and order The Legendary Quadruple C: The “Colossal Colon Clogger Combo.” 24 oz burger served with a quarter pound of cheese, a quarter pound of bacon, and 2 fried eggs. The Quadruple C also comes with a large shake (flavor of your choice) and a small (gotta watch those calories, don’tcha know) poutine.
Dangerous Dan’s burgers are big, all right. At first glance they seem like complete overkill, the stuff of eating contests and bachelor parties, testosterone-crazed feats on par with those “World’s Strongest Man” contests where musclebound dudes pull busses with their teeth... but Dangerous Dan’s burgers are the very model of delicate restraint when held up alongside the the world’s biggest burgers.
If you want a really big burger you have to go to... wait for it... no, not Texas. You have to go to Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Isn’t everything bigger in Texas? Not this time, my friend. At Denny’s you can order “The Olde 96er”: 6 pounds of meat, one large onion, two whole tomatoes, one half head of lettuce, 1 1/4 pounds of cheese, a cup each of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, relish, banana peppers and a few pickles speared atop the bun.
Denny Leigey Jr. added The Olde 96er to the menu in 1998, thus throwing down the Burger Gauntlet. It wasn’t long before challengers were building bigger-- if not necessarily better-- burgers. The Baloo Burger Co. of Glasgow, Scotland whipped up a seven pound cheeseburger. The Clinton Station Diner in New Jersey also came up with a seven pound burger, called The Zeus. Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub wasn’t going to rest on their laurels. They came up with The Beer Barrel Belly Buster: 11.5 pounds of meat, 25 slices of cheese, 1 full lettuce, 2 onions, 3 tomatoes, 25,000 calories. The Clinton Station Diner continued to take their inspiration from The Gods and introduced The Mount Olympus Burger: 25 pounds of meat plus condiments for a total weight of over 50 pounds.
Once again Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub rose to the challenge with The Beer Barrel Belly Bruiser: Two 25 pound beef patties, 4 pounds of cheese, five heads of lettuce, a couple of onions, a cup of peppers, a jar of relish, and plenty of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. The Beer Barrel Belly Bruiser stands 34 inches tall and can feed 35 to 50 people. Surely now they could stop. Surely this would be the World’s Biggest Burger.
And then came The King of Thailand. In celebration of the King of Thailand’s 60th accession year, Bob's BBQ & Grill (located in Pattaya, Thailand) produced a massive 78.5 pound cheeseburger: 55.12 pounds of meat topped with 2 large heads of lettuce, 15 tomatoes, 4 large onions, 35 slices of cheese, 1 1⁄2 cups of mustard, 1 cup of ketchup, 4 whole pickles and 4 whole Jalapeños: behold Big Bob’s Texas Belt Buster!
Back in Jersey, The Clinton Station Diner retaliated by cookin’ up a 105 lb cheeseburger (!) which held the world’s record only briefly until the good folks at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub decided to stop messing around. They came up with the current champion, The Biggest Burger in The World: The Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger. 123 pounds. An 80-pound beef patty. A 30-pound bun. 12 tomatoes. 160 slices of cheese. Throw on a pound each of lettuce, ketchup, mustard and mayo — and up to five onions. And it can all be yours for a mere $379.
Yeah, that burger’s pretty big... I guess. But the Beer Barrel Main Event Charity Burger is only the biggest Commercially Available Burger in the world. The Biggest Damn Burger in The Whole Entire World was cooked up on Saturday August 4th, 2001 for the Seymour, Wisconsin Burger Fest. It weighed in at 8,266 pounds, a full one ton heavier than the previous record holder, which was made in 1999 in Saco, Montana. In your face, Denny’s Beer Barrel!
I’m hungry, but I’m not 8,266 pounds of burger hungry. Heck, I’m not even 24 ounces of burger hungry. I call Dangerous Dan’s and place my take-out order: small onion rings and one 8 ounce burger with ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and hot peppers.
“So you want everything.”
“Everything except relish.”
By holding the relish I’ve blown my chance to order like a Zen Monk: “Make me one with everything.” But relish... it’s too damn sweet.
I throw on my “Texas Native” t-shirt (given to me by my mom last Christmas) and head out. Outside it’s a beautiful day, crisp and cool with that earthy after-the-rain smell. At Dangerous Dan’s there’s no messing around, in and out (James: “One burger, NO RELISH!”) in seconds. As I step out the door a man walks by with heating ducts on his arms: a strange robotic effect. Further down Queen Street a morbidly-- no, monstrously obese woman grinds past me on her scooter, one hand holding a cigarette, the other hanging onto her little dog’s leash. A chilling vision of things to come? With obesity rates rising, are we doomed to become a world of bloated burger-stuffed cyborgs? I decide then and there to cut out the onion rings for the rest of The Quest.
Back at home, I pull out the foil-wrapped burger and prepare to chow down. Oh man I’m so hungry I’m-a gonna eat the hell out of thing mmmm chomp gobble ROMPH-- Miss Manners shudders and turns away. Right now I’m being guided not by the dictates of Polite Society (“eat as though you’re not hungry, even if you are”) but by one of the guiding principles of The Church of The Subgenius (founded in Dallas, Texas): “Don’t just eat a hamburger, eat the hell out of it.” Passion! Gusto! Joie de vie!
THE FIRST BITE
Spicy! Black pepper in the meat, or is it just hot pepper juice? This burger is big and clunky, huge bun (straight up-- no seeds) and a big thick patty covered with lots of condiments. Chunks of onion and tomato tumble from the burger as I lift it to my mouth. The burger and onion rings are half-gone in seconds, and a feeling of deep contentment is spreading through my core. This is Comfort Food, solid and substantial and deeply satisfying.
The last bite hits me again with a delicious burst of spice. There is black pepper in the burger, which, although tasty, makes it different from the Texas Burgers of my youth. No better, no worse-- just different.
I am full but still I hunger. I have, to slightly paraphrase Robert Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”, a “hunger not of the belly kind, that's banished with burgers and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means.”
And so The Quest continues.