A combo meal with as many calories as three sirloin steak dinners? That’s just one of the “nutritional nightmares” the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest has called out in its latest Xtreme Eating Awards.
The annual awards highlight chain restaurant meals with staggeringly high calorie counts. This year’s winners:
▪ Worst Visceral Effects: Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo is more food than you can fit on a plate, so it is served on a tray — three meats and sides such as corn, fries, chili-garlic toast and garlic pickles — is like downing “three Chili’s sirloin steak dinners,” CSPI said.
▪ Worst Adapted Pasta: The Cheesecake Factory’s Pasta Napoletana is pasta that’s been greased with butter and cream and topped with Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs and bacon, answering the company’s chief culinary officer question of “How can we turn a meat lover’s pizza into a pasta?” CSPI said.
It has 2,310 calories, 79 grams of saturated fat and 4,370 mg of sodium, or the dietary equivalent of eating a Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s personal pan pizza topped with three cups of pasta and a cup of heavy cream.
▪ Worst Cocktail Design: The Cheesecake Factory’s Flying Gorilla is a boozy shake. According to CSPI, the drink has 950 calories, 26 grams of saturated fat and an estimated 60 grams of added sugar, or the nutritional equivalent of a 20-ounce Budweiser poured over five scoops of Breyers chocolate ice cream.
In a statement, Alethea Rowe, senior director of public relations for The Cheesecake Factory Inc., said: “With more than 250 menu items, The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices. Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories. Others want to share their dish — and we love it when guests share — that’s a great sign that our portions are generous — and a large percentage of our guests take home leftovers for lunch the next day. For our calorie conscious guests we have our award-winning SkinnyLicious Menu featuring nearly 50 delicious choices with 590 calories or less — which is actually larger than many restaurants entire menus.”
▪ Least Original Breakfast: IHOP’s cheeseburger omelet has eggs, hamburger patty pieces, hash browns, tomatoes, onions, American cheese, ketchup, mustard and pickles. With three buttermilk pancakes, butter and syrup as a side, the breakfast has 1,990 calories, 45 grams of saturated fat, 4,580 mg of sodium and an estimated 44 grams of added sugar.
In a statement, Stephanie Peterson, spokeswoman for IHOP, said: “While we applaud the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s efforts to educate Americans on making healthier food choices, it’s misleading to single out the highest possible meal combinations without informing people about the wide range of choices offered at our restaurants, including the ability to customize any item on our menu to meet a variety of dietary needs. Our commitment is to offer our guests flavorful, inventive all-day breakfast dishes that can be enjoyed as they see fit — whether it’s every day or occasionally depending on how they choose to live a balanced lifestyle.”
IHOP said nutritional information on its meals is accessible by visiting its website.
▪ Most Damage from a Supporting Vegetable: Texas Roadhouse’s 16-ounce prime rib has 1,570 calories by itself, but it comes with two sides. CSPI said it is normally a fan of sweet potatoes, but the chain’s loaded sweet potato comes with mini marshmallows and caramel sauce for a total of 770 calories. If Caesar salad is the second side, the meal will have 2,820 calories, 72 grams of saturated fat, 5,330 mg of sodium and an estimated 51 grams of added sugar.
CSPI said that was the equivalent of eating two of the chain’s 12-ounce New York strip steak dinners (with mashed potatoes and vegetables) and a slice of strawberry cheesecake.
Texa Roadhouse issued this statement: “We are proud of our made-from-scratch food and the vast menu options that we offer. We also list calorie counts on our menu and online, which allows guests to choose what they feel is best for them. The information released is very misleading as they chose to select a non-standard menu item to highlight. The sweet potato is just one of 12 side items guests can choose, including house salad, corn, green beans, or fresh vegetables.”
▪ Worst Cheese in a Leading Role: Buffalo Wild Wings’ Cheese Curd Bacon Burger has battered and deep-fried cheese curds piled on a burger then topped with cheese and two bacon strips and drenched with mayo-rich “cool heat sauce.”
CSPI said that with a side of fries, it is the nutritional equivalent of five Burger King bacon double cheeseburgers.
Officials with Buffalo Wild Wings couldn’t be reached for comment.
▪ Worst Original Appetizer: Dave & Buster’s Carnivore Pizzadilla is a 12-inch quesadilla served pizza-style in eight slices and stuffed with Manchego and cheddar cheeses, pepperoni and Italian sausage, then topped with more pepperoni and Italian sausage, bacon, marinara, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
“Leave it to America’s chain restaurant industry to market a stack of pancakes as a side dish, or to lard up quesadillas and pasta with pizza toppings, or to ruin a perfectly good sweet potato,” said Lindsay Moyer, CSPI senior nutritionist.
CSPI also awarded its first-ever Xtreme Putting Profits Before Public Health Award to Domino’s, a chain that has been “the loudest industry voice opposing calorie labeling.”
In a statement, Tim McIntyre, Domino’s spokesman, said: “We absolutely support a consistent means by which to share nutrition and calorie information with our customers. In fact, we’ve been doing it voluntarily on our web site for nearly 15 years......Ninety-percent of the orders coming to Domino’s occur off-premise: meaning, over the phone or via a digital platform. Sixty percent of orders come from online platforms. We have opposed the one-size-fits-all menu labeling requirements that the FDA has proposed, which does not account for restaurants that rely primarily on off-premise ordering like digital ordering online or on a mobile device....I recently was asked to write an op-ed for USA Today on this topic.”