as I sat there staring at the coronary colossus, entertaining victorious thoughts of consuming the largest hamburger I'd ever seen — it was a burger the size of a snare drum, I tell you! — I made the mistake of asking if anyone had ever conquered this beefy beast before. Surely some Bunyanesque legend had taken on the challenge and vanquished this foe of Angus awesomeness.
That's when John Makridis, owner of Big Fred's Famous Roast Beef, a blue-collar dinette in a humble Clearwater strip mall, told me the story of the 450-pound man and his epic struggle against Hurricane Fred, our area's nod to the competitive gorging inspired by the Travel Channel's Man v. Food.
With a voracious appetite and a girth of confidence, the 450-pound man at first attacked the Hurricane Fred, which consists of a 5-pound patty the width of a Hyundai hubcap, 10 slices of American cheese, 10 slices of smoked bacon, plus tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle, mayo, mustard and ketchup all on a homemade bun the thickness of a sofa cushion.
But alas, the 450-pound man was felled. How far did he get? "Almost halfway," says Makridis with a puckish grin. That's the closest anyone has come.
I was a goner.
Big Fred's features a 1-pound burger (the Touchdown), a 2-pound burger (the Buccaneer) and a 3-pound burger (the Big Kahuna). But the "challenge" is the Hurricane Fred, which sells for $35 and needs an hour of prep time. Finish the sucker in two hours, and you get your meal for free, plus a T-shirt, plus … well, Makridis hasn't thought that far.
"We started it because people think they're brave," says Christina Makridis, John's wife. "We kept hearing, you should go bigger, you should go bigger." Hundreds of people have tried to topple Hurricane Fred. No winners; only heartache and heartburn.
I wish I could spin some epic tale of masticating derring-do, but alas, the Hurricane Fred kicked my rump pretty good. It wasn't even close, to be honest.
I went there on a Tuesday night. I hadn't eaten all day and was famished, so I had a rumbly belly on my side. I also love Man v. Food, and although I've never been foolish enough to think I could out-eat Adam Richman, I was foolish enough to try.
I cut the Hurricane Fred in half, using a knife that looked more like a hacksaw. I then attacked the mondo burger in sections, something I thought I'd seen Adam do on MvF. (Besides, I could barely pick it up. My options were limited.) I chomped through a quarter of the sandwich quickly; it was hot and delicious, especially the bacon, which gave each bite a salty kick. The condiments were messy but tasty; the onions fresh with bite. The burger was cooked well, but it still retained juices and flavor.
Then I made the mistake of talking to Makridis, and as he told the story of the 450-pound man, the Hurricane Fred made a checkmate move: It started to lose its heat. And as I got fuller and the burger got colder, the whole notion of trying to stuff my head with 5 pounds of meat took on a horrific vibe. Each bite became a queasy prolonged chew, something Edgar Allan Poe might have described. The bun was suddenly unbreadlike, something you might see in a Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, like a Styrofoam re-creation of the world's biggest bun.
Curiously enough, I did manage to keep up a spirited relationship with the bacon, eating eight out of 10 strips. Hooray! Soon enough, though, with about 1 1/2 pounds of meat consumed, I tapped out. Any ideas of a comeback were quelled when Christina Makridis taunted: "We have a 3-pound cheesecake for you after you're done."
Hurricane Fred, undefeated.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.