TAMPA — I planted my flag on Meat Mountain, and it was good.
You know the saying about why Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest? "Because it was there." It's apropos.
This summer Arby's hung posters showing a preposterous stack of different meats on a bun, largely to combat its reputation as a roast beef-only kind of place. But the story goes that people kept asking, "Um, can I have the sandwich on that poster?"
And this week the answer is yes. So Friday I went to scale Arby's Meat Mountain on Hillsborough Avenue.
As with all "secret menu" fast-food items (see: Burger King's Suicide Burger or the Land, Sea and Air Burger at McDonald's), counter staff are a little twitchy when you order, often enlisting the help of an assistant manager to find the right button on the register.
In this case, the manager pressed a single button that I'm guessing said "Meat Mountain," the screen lighting up with the ingredients: pepper bacon, roast beef, natural cheddar slice, angus beef, brisket, corned beef, big eye Swiss, roast ham, roast turkey, chicken tenders. Subtotal $10. With tax $10.70.
After a bit of smirking all around, we awaited our Mountain by assembling proper tools: a pile of napkins, paper ramekins of horseradish sauce and barbecue (which was likely to better meld with a mountain?) and a Diet Pepsi. Oh, come on. Full-test Dr Pepper is mandatory when mountain climbing.
We had read that the sandwich was too brawny to fit into Arby's cardboard clamshells, but Tampa's Arby's engineers executed a work-around such that only a bit of brisket and corned beef peeked out the box's sides.
I brought my kitchen scale to take stock: 1 pound, 1 ounce of sandwich (and I'm pretty sure our pepper bacon was MIA). The estimated calorie count is supposed to be 1,275, but I would guess higher, especially once horseradish sauce is added (it trounced the barbecue).
So how was the most expensive fast-food sandwich these days? The bun maintained integrity so the whole thing didn't devolve into a meat pile; the brisket and corned beef added meaty oomph to the anemic flavor of Arby's traditional roast beef; and even the chicken tenders, something I ordinarily don't think of as an "ingredient," conspired to make the whole zestier than the sum of its parts.
Then there's the question of why. Do you need to have more than half of your recommended daily calories in by a single sandwich, not to mention several days worth of sodium and other goodies? No. This is stunt food. Already the University of Virginia football team has instituted a Meat Mountain challenge.
Is the price too high? If you bought all of the sandwiches separately and assembled it yourself, it would cost $30. Plus then you'd have a whole heap of buns to repurpose.
As secret menu items become more extreme (i.e., the 1,500 calorie quesarito at Chipotle), it's natural to ask what is fueling these stellar feats of gluttony. Some of this is savvy marketing on the part of fast-food restaurants aiming to make customers feel special and "in the know."
And clearly social media plays a role, with Vines, GoPro-aided YouTube videos and Instagram documenting our own attempts at extreme eating.
We know it's not good for us, but we are undeterred, just as record numbers of climbers attempted Everest in the aftermath of a tragic loss of life.
It's bragging rights. I only managed half of my sandwich, but I'm claiming I was near enough to the summit that this mountain is mine.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.