At Hardee's, a Monster on the loose


LET'S BEGIN with the premise that you like to eat fast food and you don't get all weepy each time you step in front of a mirror and see two chins and your gut spilling over your belt.

You don't go to Burger King for the Fire-Grilled Garden Salad, and you don't care how much weight that whiny Jared lost at Subway. And for you, the darkest day in American history was the day McDonald's announced it would no longer super-size its drinks and fries.

Pal, this one's for you. Because this one's about Hardee's new Monster Thickburger, and you sound like the target customer.

If you haven't heard of the Monster yet -- it's only been out a few weeks -- it consists of two huge Angus beef patties, four strips of bacon, three slices of cheese and mayonnaise on a buttered sesame-seed bun.

The whole thing is topped off with a double-scoop of vanilla ice cream and dark-chocolate sauce.

OK, it doesn't really come with ice cream and chocolate sauce -- at least not right now.

But the other ingredients are real, and together they give the Monster the heft of a doorstop.

With 1,420 calories and 107 grams of fat, the Monster also makes a Big Mac or Whopper look like an order of carrot sticks.

If you even look at the Monster, you'll gain five pounds.

If you actually eat the whole thing -- I ate half of one the other day at the Hardee's in Glen Burnie -- you'll be pinned to your chair for several hours adjusting to the force of gravity, as you'll now weigh as much as a floor safe.

(Now, before we go any further, a disclaimer of sorts.)

(Longtime readers may recall that a year ago in this space, I wrote about Hardee's rolling out the first fast-food low-carb burgers. But the intent is not to shill for Hardee's. I didn't even get a free burger out of the deal -- and I can be bought for a lot less.)

(But what am I supposed to do? Not write about it when they roll out a burger the size of an all-season radial?)

Actually, aside from its size and the fact it's a nutritionist's nightmare, there's really nothing special about the Monster Thickburger.

Oh, it's tasty enough, all right. But no more tasty than a lot of other bacon-cheeseburgers you've had in your life.

No, what's interesting is the reaction the Monster has provoked from the late-night talk shows and the various health gestapos.

Jay Leno reportedly cracked that the Monster Thickburger "actually comes in a little cardboard box shaped like a coffin."

And a skit on David Letterman's show had a Hardee's executive suffering a heart attack as he discussed the health aspects of eating the Monster.

But my favorite reaction -- as always -- came from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

This is the public-health watchdog group that has made headlines in recent years with the, um, colorful labels it has given certain foods deemed by it to be unhealthy. (The all-time classic: fettuccine Alfredo, which the center dubbed "a heart attack on a plate.")

If you log onto the center's Web site, you'll find an absolutely wonderful statement from CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson, who referred to Hardee's line of Thickburgers as "food porn" when it was first rolled out last year.

Now how do you top a line like that?

Jacobson found a way.

The great ones always do.

"If the old Thickburger was Food Porn, the new Monster Thickburger is the fast-food equivalent of a snuff film," reads his latest missive.

Oh, you gotta love the CSPI. There's no metaphor too outrageous for these people.

In the meantime, of course, all this negative publicity about the Monster Thickburger has Hardee's crying all the way to the bank.

Bev Pfeifer-Harms, Hardee's PR manager, said over the phone yesterday that the Monster is selling "very well. In all our markets, they're very popular. And depending on what market you're referring to, they rank second or third among the top-selling [items]."

So don't feel bad for Hardee's the next time some wise-guy comedian takes a shot at the Monster's ridiculous fat content, or some namby-pamby health lobby labels it "Satan's burger" and blames it for the soaring rates of obesity and heart disease in this country.

As long as there are people like you, Mr. No-Salad-Bar-For-Me, Mr. Haven't-Checked-My-Cholesterol-in-Years, the Monster will do just fine.

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