Saturday, November 8, 2008

Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub

1452 Woodland Road
Clearfield, PA 16830

By Scarlet Pumpernickel

I knew it was trouble when Beau emailed me about some kid who had eaten a 20lb burger in Pennsylvania. When he suggested we go check the place out, how could I say no? It's was going to be a bit of a drive, but I can't back down from a challenge; certainly not one that involves a giant burger. 20lbs of food is well beyond me, but they have a couple of smaller challenges for the slightly less foolhardy. Beau and I were each planning on tackling the "2lb" burger challenge which nets you half price on the meal, a tee-shirt, and a photo on the wall. So, early on a Saturday morning, we set out to the east to face our burger destiny.

The restaurant is a casual place; a seat yourself affair. It was also packed, which wasn't too surprising because it was lunchtime. Once we got settled in, we ordered our burgers. According to the rules, you have one hour to finish the burger, and it comes with a standard set of toppings, of which you can only remove one. We filled out forms with our names and information and had our photos taken.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, we received our burgers. Neither of us was prepared for how big they actually turned out to be. I've eaten 1+lb burgers before, so I figured this would just be about twice that size. Unfortunately for me, the 2lb burger was the post-cooked weight of just the patty. A patty about eight inches in diameter and more than an inch thick sitting between the two halves of a "bun" that was really just a round loaf of bread cut in half, with lettuce, onions, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, mayo, ketchup, and mustard piled on, topped with a pickle.

The waitress marked our start times and the battle began.

When I was in college, Fox had an eating competition special. Sure, we've all seen the clips on the news about this or that person finishing some obscene amount of whatever, but actually seeing the whole competition was another matter all together. What struck me was that in the world of competitive eating there are two kinds of challenges, ones where the contestant must eat as much of something normal, like hot dogs, as he/she can and ones where the contestant much choke down as much of something disgusting, like a bowl of mayonnaise, as possible. Don't get me wrong, I love mayonnaise, but a bowl of the stuff on its own? Disgusting.

One bite into the burger (much more difficult than it sounds because the whole burger is about 6 inches tall with bun and simply cannot be eaten like a normal burger) revealed this challenge to be one of the latter type. The meat patty was gritty, flavorless, and dry. It was like they took the lowest grade beef they could find, ground it as finely as they could, threw in some filler to hold it together, and cooked the life out of it. It was one of the worst burger patties I've ever had. It WAS the challenge. I imagine there are a lot of big guys who could come in and eat a normal burger of that size if they really tried, but swallowing that dense, flavorless wad of protein was pretty unpleasant.

It clearly didn't have to be that way. The toppings were all fresh and crispy and the bread, while a bit stiff, likely for structural reasons, tasted fine. The place was also packed with locals eating normal burgers, so I simply cannot believe that they make their normal patties that way. I admit, a normal burger patty of that magnitude would fall to pieces while you ate it, but the massive burger is far too ungainly for it to matter. Thus the battle was not between me and a giant burger, but between me and a terrible burger.

I gave it my all, but after 40 minutes I had to throw in the towel. I was out of breath simply from the effort it took to try and digest the food already in my stomach. I was almost halfway done; Beau fared even worse than I did. We didn't feel too bad because of all the encouragement and support we got from the staff and other patrons.

That's the biggest shame of the whole affair, the place is charming, and everyone there is really friendly. I don't for a second think I could have finished the burger if the meat was better, but if it was, I would have gone back someday to try again.


By Beau Cadiyo

We parked in the dirt lot. Inside, it felt like a hunting lodge, and the hunters at the tables – in green, or camouflage, and boots – didn’t hurt. The barmaids were cute and blonde, but just past perfection, with lines starting to show in their unsmiling faces. The cutest, wearing a shirt that read “You can’t spell c_ck_ _ cker without OSU,” turned out to be exceptionally rude and unpleasant; we moved tables and were served by an brunette who was just as nice, if a little more plain, as the blonde was bitchy. It’s funny how personality can absolutely trump mere physical attractiveness.

While waiting, it became evident that most of the people there were probably townies, or at least not there for the burger challenge. A group of four standing at the bar were trying to make plans for the day; one of the women said, “Well we can always go to WalMart after the wedding.” Just after this, the waitress came out with a plate and a very large burger on top. We grinned; if that’s what we were supposed to eat, we’d be fine. High-fives all around.

Then ours came out. They were plate-wide and head-high. There was certainly no way we could take bites out of it like a normal hamburger, and we were told we couldn’t use silverware; this would require some other sort of plan. Scarlet seemed to try to shave pieces off of it, a sliver at a time, all the way down; I decided to start with the bun, tomatoes and two pounds of beef, leaving the pile of pepperoncinis, onions, lettuce and lower bun on the plate for later. And we began.

Disgusting. While the tomatoes were tasty, the bread was cracker-dry. The meat was not much better; it too was dry and chalky, leaving an unpleasant, gritty texture in my mouth. Scarlet put her engineering mind to the task and reasoned that it had to be ground finely in order to cook through effectively, and that the smaller burgers must – must – be better. I started drinking water with each bite to moisten bites and compact it, Kobayashi-style. Then, I started eating a bite of meat and bread with some pepperoncinis or onions to make it more palatable. To no avail; I soon started feeling sick. I tried just eating the vegetables. I tried the bread and vegetables. In desperation, I drank half of a bottle of water to settle my stomach and tried to take another bite – just one more.

It was Saint Crispian’s day, 593 years after the Battle of Agincourt. I remembered that
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day…
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered.

It was certainly a feast, and I will certainly remember it. Every year, around my birthday and around New Years, I wonder what exactly I will leave to my kids. I know almost nothing about my parents’ early lives – my father’s trip from Africa to Europe and then New York, where he met my mother, a nice Polish Catholic girl from Staten Island. I know that he was a boxing champion, and won an annual televised game show, the prize of which was a medical degree in Montpellier, France; I know that her mother owned a soda shop, that she met Warren Beatty when he filmed Splendor in the Grass, and that she was married twice before she met my father, when they worked in the same hospital. What will my kids know of me? What can they know about the year I spent in the UK – about going to the student union, getting drunk, and stumbling to the chip shop for a kebab and French fries before making it home to Gordon Road? What about the year in Barcelona – can they know about the first bocadillo de tortilla de patatas that I had at Pans & Company, or the jamon Serrano from the café on the corner in Gracia? Will they even know about these periods of my life, or will they know only about my life with them?

I don’t know. But every October 25, I will invite Scarlet over, and my kids will hear about how two of the writers of the Cleveland Sandwich Board drove seven hours round-trip through the hills of Western Pennsylvania to a restaurant in a beautiful little town called Clearfield. They will know that Ed and D. John couldn't make it, but that they were with us in spirit. I will roll up my shirt, and show them the stretch marks, explaining at which bite I received each one. When they are young I will tell them that we each ate half of a two-pound burger, and every year the percentage will increase; we will have eaten fries on top of the five-pounder, and requested more, which they wouldn’t give us, having run out of food in the kitchen. My children will wish they’d been there, too, no matter how old they get or how many times they hear the story. Then we will tuck into our feast of cheap ground beef, vegetables and bread, and I will watch them, and remember my glorious youth.


David said...

Arghh! 4x4 Friday at the ol' In'N'Out sounds vastly superior.

AS said...

There will actually be at least one 4x4 Friday in the next two weeks...