As a born and raised Midwesterner, I've got a special place in my heart/arteries for Steak & Shake. East Coasters can continue to fawn over the oh-so-trendy Shake Shack, but the fact is S&S is the original (Shake Shack's founder is on record from having snagged some of their inspiration from it), doing it (and doing it well!) since the first one opened in ever so Normal, Illinois in 1934. Well... I assume they did it well, as there are more than 400 of them now, and you don't achieve that kind of growth without either the financial backing of someone with a Scrooge McDuck-size money bin, or some innovation. And the latter seemed to be the main reason I found myself staring down their newest, craziest, most handsome creation: The 7x7 Burger.
This Burger Comes on a Fried Cheese Bun
This 1,330-calorie beast is only available from midnight to 6a (so you can guess the clientele they're catering to: Soccer Moms!). Tragically there are no locations within the Chicago city limits, which necessitated a special midnight trip out to the 'burbs. The first bite you see above took place around 1215a. I think my eyes adequately convey the mix of ecstasy and fear. Ecstasy the emotional state. I don't put that crap in my body, which has to be kept pure for over-sized fast food burgers. They give you the option of lettuce, tomato, and whatnot on the side, but it's quite a mouthful as is, and who in their right mind wants to sully this thing with salad anyway?!?!
At this point, I'd eaten the equivalent of 3.5 normal burgers, and yet I was feeling confident, cocky even, like Ken Jennings at a bar trivia night. The cheese is all melting happily together, and it's not as prone to falling apart as I'd feared. Any S&S aficionado/fat person knows the calling card of a steakburger is the outstandingly flavorful griddled crust they achieve on the patties, so getting it seven times over is a life-altering experience. Or a life-shortening one, considering in the back of my mind I know that the flavor explosion I'm enjoying is primarily a combo of grease and liquified processed cheese. Ever so slightly, doubt seeps in.
This is Ryan. Ryan is the guy who took photos of me eating the 7x7. At the same time, Ryan also ate a 7x7. Look at Ryan's face. Though it may look like he's focused on his food to the lay person, he's really just trying not to watch me shove an entire day's worth of caloric intake into my system in six minutes, even though he's doing the same damn thing. It's like that scene in The Man Without a Face where Nick Stahl refuses to look at Mel Gibson's disfigured dome while learning geometry. In other news, Nick Stahl is now 33yrs old.
As any scientist who's ever gotten really fat can tell you, beverage choice, when consuming this mass of meat, is critical. Ryan opted for water like a COWARD reasonable person, but I couldn't help but reach for my go-to, a vanilla Coke. The sugar/fat tag team definitely started making its presence felt about halfway through the mission, but taste-wise the VC proved invaluable in counterbalancing the sodium overload of the burger, even if it upped the calorie overload and my own looming sense of doom.
Coming down the home stretch, I had little doubt I was going to finish, but my body was already starting to display signs of open revolt. Even as Ryan SELFISHLY REFUSED TO LOOK AT ME, I began to contemplate my own patty-based demise. Questions swirled around in my brain: Will my editor even miss me when I'm gone (EDITOR'S NOTE: No)? Is Kevin Smith some sort of prophet who actually knows that the true god is Alanis Morissette? And why do I have my pinky in the air while I'm eating a gigantic burger?
Look at that bottom bun. The degree to which it's become a grease sponge at the end is alternately delicious and horrifying. It's easy to see why they have this thing on the "Up All Night" menu -- the process of digesting it did not make falling asleep an easy task. Also on said menu? The Steakburger Slinger, a skillet full of hash browns, chili, an adorable two hamburger patties, cheese, and two fried eggs. But that's an adventure for another time.
And there you have it. I did it. Everyone said I couldn't do it, that I would never finish, that my photographer should be "someone who respects me", that I was actually just hallucinating my conversation with Bill Wennington, but they were wrong! All that's left on this plate are grease stains, leftover ketchup, and memories. Could you, too, enjoy this orgy of meat? If you have a decent appetite and don't mind eating all of your calories after midnight, yes. But know that it will have consequences for you later. Think heart palpitations, meat sweats, and fever dreams involving your high school English teacher at a French motocross race. Now multiply that by seven.