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Charlotte NASCAR fans embrace Behemoth Burger

- kgarloch@charlotteobserver.com
Friday, May. 24, 2013

When Bill and Fran Parker arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday, they headed straight for Gate 5A in search of this year’s newest and most unusual concession food — the Behemoth Burger.

Bill Parker, 66, a retired firefighter from Connecticut, heard about the 5-pound cheeseburger during TV coverage of last week’s Sprint All-Star Race.

“I’m going for it,” he said. “I always wanted to do something like this.”

He plopped down $35 and rubbed his hands in anticipation as the cook fried 14 hamburger patties on a flat grill.

Passersby walked up to examine the sample Behemoth Burger, displayed atop a scale, to prove its weight credentials. One group in a golf cart stopped and hopped out to take pictures.

As big as a triple-layer cake, the burger is made of 14 ground beef patties, covered with a pound of melted American cheese, piled high with lettuce, tomato and onion, and served between halves of a round 9-inch loaf of Hawaiian bread and topped with a whole kosher dill pickle.

“Oh my word,” declared Clara Richards of Greenville, N.C.

“How would you put something like that in your mouth?” asked Tammie Angstadt of Hedgesville, W. Va.

“That’s a heart attack in the making,” said “Dandy Don” Parker, a Mooresville race fan who laughed with friends, including Preston Cornelius, a retired judge and former president of the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association.

“Anything to help the beef industry,” Cornelius joked.

‘Wow’ creation

Amid the roar of cars qualifying for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Ken Gaber, director of operations for Levy Restaurants, the Speedway’s concessionaire, spoke proudly of his creation.

“Every race, we try to come up with something new, something over the top,” he said. “We want ‘Wow’ things to get people talking...Some people only come to one race a year, and sometimes they like to splurge.”

Every year, Gaber calls a meeting of his staff to brainstorm about new foods for the race. But this year, he came up with the Behemoth Burger all by himself.

He calculated that the whole thing has 6,500 calories. But he said it’s usually cut into pieces and could feed up to14 people. That puts the $35 price into perspective too, he said. If you bought 14 regular-size burgers at the track for $9 each, you’d pay $126.

“It’s the deal of the century,” he proclaimed.

Some of Levy’s concession stands offer healthier fare too, said Chef Shawn McFalls. One features driver “Danica Patrick’s Fit Fuel Menu” with turkey and veggie burgers, fresh fruits and vegetables and salads.

But it’s the novelty foods that keep fans smiling and coming back.

Past successes include Red Velvet Funnel Cakes – deep fried cake batter, sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with cream cheese frosting – and the Funnel Bacakonator, a funnel cake covered in bacon pieces, with strawberry and chocolate sauces. That one got a mention on the late-night TV show, Jimmy Kimmel Live.

“We definitely try to work for the hype,” McFalls said. “We like to ‘Wow’ ‘em.”

There have been some flops too.

Lug Nuts – hot dogs covered in macaroni and cheese, breaded and deep fried – tasted good but weren’t big sellers, McFalls said. Same for the Corny Leg, a smoked turkey leg, battered with cornbread dressing, deep fried and served with gravy and cranberry sauce.

Good reviews

In its first outing at last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race, the Behemoth Burger showed promise.

The concession stand sold 14 burgers, including one to four guys who devoured it on the spot, in less than 10 minutes.

“They loved it, and they told everybody,” said Desarae Crossen, who works at the booth.

Even a nutritionist, hearing about the bodacious burger, had fun with the idea.

“It’s sort of iconic of American expectations about food,” said Nancy Fey-Yensan, dean of the UNC Charlotte College of Health and Human Services. “It’s this wonderful exaggeration of how we like to super-size everything.

“These kinds of food stunts, they’re exciting, they’re novel, they get people’s attention. But they certainly aren’t for every day.”

In fact, she wondered if the message might actually reinforce healthy eating.

“When people see how messy and big and greasy they are, there’s another reaction that people might have – Ewwww!”

Even Bill Parker, who delighted in displaying his big burger to fans sitting nearby in the grandstand, admitted it could have been better if “they had drained off some of the juice.”

When he took his first bite, both hands wrapped around the sloppy, thick pie-shaped piece, several bits fell to the ground.

Parker eventually ate three of the nine slices and shared the rest with his wife and others in the stands.

“Actually it’s not bad,” Fran Parker said. “But one of those was all I could eat.”

As Bill Parker bit into his final piece, another race fan walked by and said: “You’re gonna need a nap after that.”

Parker just laughed.

“You’re here to have fun...Once a kid, always a kid.”

Garloch: 704-358-5078

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