The day of eating dangerously
Irv Leavitt looks for the cheesecake in a stack of New York Cheesecake Pancakes.
Updated: September 30, 2011 11:57AM
Our Megabites series has taken you to big-food chow-downs at 26 mostly-mom 'n pop restaurants in 16 towns, and some people say we heedlessly encouraged hitherto little-known opportunities for cardiac disease.
Fair enough. We maintain, however, that almost anywhere you go, you'll find a well-known food franchise nearby where thousands have indulged in gastronomic self-endangerment with no help from us.
And at most of these rubber-stamp restaurants, you can order from some sullen counter-creature who won't judge you, because he or she just doesn't care whether you live or die.
By way of illustration, I recently spent a day traveling north and west Chicago suburbia with my daughter Megan, 10, checking off errands and entertainments between meals taken at familiar and convenient purveyors of Big Fat Food.
"You would eat a hippo if you had to," Megan intoned as I started the car. I chose to take that as a compliment.
Our day began with breakfast at the Howard and Asbury IHOP in Evanston. I ordered the New York Cheesecake Pancakes -- four buttermilk pancakes fried from cheesecake-impregnated batter, topped with stewed strawberries in strawberry syrup, plus whipped cream and powdered sugar.
That all reportedly packs 1,270 calories, not including the two eggs, hash browns and four rashers of bacon that you can get if you order it as part of a $7.59 Pancake Combo. Which I did.
Waiter Mario Kirksey -- who was not sullen at all -- and I shared a giggle over the note on the menu next to the Cheesecake Pancakes: "Sugar-free syrup available on request."
After taking a few bites, I told him I detected no cheese and no cake.
He whisked the stack away to the cook, who advised to look under the top pancake at the one beneath. I found it dappled with weird protruding cubes of stuff.
I still couldn't taste the difference, but after finishing half my breakfast, I suddenly felt as if I had swallowed three quarts of Wisconsin custard.
So I just nursed my coffee and watched light-eating Megan tuck into the heartiest breakfast of her life: A plate of "Cinnaminions" -- lumpy frosted and cinnamon-sugared objects named after the little yellow slaves in the "Despicable Me" movie -- plus scrambled eggs and bacon.
Then we decamped to Best Buy, six blocks west, where I failed to find anything to definitively solve our TV reception problems, and bought a 50-cent headphone adapter for $10.
A half-hour later, we were at Oak Park's landmark Lake Theatre, which has a noon show for just $6. That's still more than "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" could possibly be worth. But close enough.
Of course, it was in 3D, which meant an extra $3.50, and Please Return the Glasses on Your Way Out.
I waddled to a seat and fell asleep during the opening credits.
Unfortunately, I woke up.
When you've got a gooey brick gurgling in your stomach, you don't want to see giant cats hurled out of a movie screen at your head.
By the end, I felt better, however. I no longer dreaded our next stop, KFC, 316 Madison St., and the Double Down, that famous jack cheese and bacon sandwich with two fried chicken breasts where bread would be anticipated by reasonable people.
I asked Megan, who rarely eats any chicken without the word "nugget" in its name, if she wanted anything. Negative.
"Evil KFC," she growled.
She maintained KFC treats chickens badly, and I countered that I doubted her friends at McDonald's dressed future McNuggets in silk pajamas.
Her enmity toward KFC stems entirely from an online video game in which she fought mechanical spiders who look like Colonel Sanders, to free a kidnapped princess who moonlights as a TV journalist exposing KFC's alleged callousness. The princess is Pamela Anderson.
I kid you not. You can look it up.
Megan even refused a soda, though she was thirsty.
"High fructose corn syrup," she cried. "Buckets of blood!"
Shortly after I asked the KFC counterman for the $6.99 Double Down Sandwich Combo, he started searching the work areas.
"Hey, what happened to that Double Down you made?" he asked somebody who didn't answer.
My Double Down looked smaller than in ads, the chicken's crust was not very crispy, and an orangeish substance called Colonel's Sauce was leaking out thinly.
It was delicious anyway. Really, how can you miss with boneless fried chicken, cheese and bacon? That would taste good with formaldehyde gravy.
It only had 540 calories, which isn't terrible, but 290 of those were fat calories, which is. And the potato wedges, which were delightful, come in at 260 and 110, respectively.
So the entire meal contains 400 calories from fat, which means I will eat it no more often than I file my income taxes.
Our next planned errand was at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, the only grocery store I know of that still carries Smucker's Uncrustables Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, which Megan adores.
But we had plenty of time, so we stopped at The Grove National Landmark in Glenview, which she also loves.
We were lost on the nature trail for about half an hour, during which time the mosquitos totally ignored Megan but swarmed me.
Maybe it was something I ate.
Megan was hungry, so we went to the Glenview Burger King, 1834 Waukegan Road, where she ate nuggets of chicken shaped like crowns, and I got the Triple Whopper With Cheese.
It had 1,250 calories, not including the fries that came with the $7.99 Value Meal. They add another 340.
After 53 years, almost everyone knows what a Whopper tastes like. The Triple's just thicker.
Which begs the same question asked on thousands of billboards during World War II gas rationing.
Is this trip necessary?
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