It's a place that mixes candor with calories. The Heart Attack Grill that opened last week in Las Vegas blatantly advertises food that's bad for you. And in case you don't get the message, the restaurant has a hospital theme, with an ambulance parked out front, servers dressed like nurses and an owner, Jon Basso, who refers to himself as "Dr. Jon."
"Give people what they want,” Basso told me. "But tell them the truth. And that's what we're doing here."
Never mind that there's an epidemic of obesity in America. The signature dish is the Quadruple Bypass — four half-pound burger patties topped with cheese, bacon and no lettuce (lettuce is for wimps). If you order it with the fries cooked in lard and the triple butterfat milkshake topped with a pat of real butter, you'll be getting 8,000 calories worth of food.
"If you have an 8,000-calorie meal, that's equivalent to five days worth of food for most people," said Laura Kruskall, director of nutrition sciences for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Anyone who walks into the Heart Attack Grill weighing in at more than 350 pounds gets to eat free of charge. Basso has been widely criticized for this policy, but he laughs it off. "Hey, we're all dysfunctional."
Basso had similar restaurants in the Dallas and Phoenix area but closed them in the face of protests and community pressure. A spokesperson for one of his previous restaurants, 575-pound Blair River, died in March of obesity-related illness.
Basso is hoping that the more permissive atmosphere in Las Vegas will permit his restaurant to thrive. "The calories you consume in Vegas," he said, grinning, "stay in Vegas."
I tried a few of those calories. The french fries cooked in lard were extremely salty, but tasty. The shake was thick and gooey and impossible to drink through a straw, and the burger meat was nicely done over an open flame. But there was no way I could put my mouth around the whole four-patty creation.
I only ate a few small bites. The pounds you put on in Vegas don't stay in Vegas; they go home with you. The average person burns about 100 calories walking a mile, which means you'd have to walk 80 miles to burn off that Quadruple Bypass with fries and a shake.
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