A 15-pound burger.
Just saying the phrase isn't enough to indicate exactly how massive of a burger that is. Fifteen pounds - and that's just the meat. Twenty-four slices of American cheese. An entire head of lettuce. A 15-pound burger like the one that the French Press Café (1201 N. Post Oak) makes to order normally serves 24 people. But today, four men took on the challenge: finish the entire 15-pound burger in under an hour, or forfeit $75 each.
In the kitchen with French Press Cafe's head chef, David Cantu, before the mayhem started in the dining room, I watched as he composed the burger behemoth. "You eat food with your eyes first," he mused as he painstakingly applied slices of tomato and onion to his massive creation. "The plate is a canvas, and the food is art."
If that sounds odd coming from a cook at a burger joint, that's because Cantu isn't just a grill jockey. He's a Le Notre-trained chef who got his start working at the Lancaster Hotel alongside Jamie Zelko and our own Jason Kerr. He also makes a wicked bread pudding and muffins that sell out early every morning after French Press opens at 7 a.m. "I'm slowly revamping the menu," he told me with a smile as he laid lettuce leaves atop the patty.
Although the French Press Café only opened three months ago (in the old Tommy's Burgers location, tucked behind the Awty campus), Cantu is no stranger to making the gigantic burgers. In addition to dine-in and drive-through service, the restaurant also caters. And its enormous burgers are already its most popular catering option. A 15-pound burger retails for $139 (or $159 with fries) and feeds two dozen people. French Press Café also makes a 10-pound version for $109 and a whopping 20-pound burger for $169.
The burger patty itself is simply ground beef prepared with Worcestershire sauce, ancho chiles, brown sugar, garlic and salt. Cantu bakes it in a deep paella pan, then covers it with all the traditional condiments, including plenty of mustard and mayonnaise (this being Texas and all, there's no ketchup on the burger). The buns are simply too large to make in house, so the neighboring World Catering & Cakes bakery down the street on Silber bakes them for French Press. This is truly a bespoke burger, bun and all.
In the main dining room, a crew of four lanky men waited for the burger to come out. They were all members of a local band, the Jud Johnson Band, who had roped one another into being the first to tackle the inaugural burger eating contest at French Press. None of them looked as if they could tame the burger beast. Then again, you wouldn't think Takeru Kobayashi was a champion competitive eater just to look at the guy. Maybe the motley crew would surprise us all.
"This is Texas!" owner Jason Levy cried out as he announced the rules of the contest. "We wanna see some Texas-sized appetites!" And that meant that the four men -- Zach Spruill, Mario Navarro, Nigel Zamora and Cody Wilson -- had only an hour to finish the entire burger. Fries were optional. "Why didn't we order the big burger?" Nigel Zamora joked as they dug in.
Only 10 minutes into the hour, Cody Wilson had already requested some Ranch dressing for his share of the burger. "After a while, it all starts to taste the same," he explained sheepishly.
The men had sliced the burger into cake-like portions and all were daintily tackling it with knives and forks. An onlooker with a mean mullet and a sizeable belly guffawed at them. "They couldn't finish that thing even if they had another hour," he scoffed, grinning.
Another onlooker, Al Pagliuso, agreed. The mail carrier for the restaurant, he had watched, astounded, as the burger was assembled in the kitchen and stayed to watch the entire show. But quickly after expressing his disbelief that the four men could finish the whole thing, he'd changed gears entirely: "Tell me, why doesn't the Houston Press have a category for Best Percussionist in the music awards?"
Unanswered question No. 1 of the day.
Towards the end of the hour, it became clear that the four musicians weren't going to be able to finish the burger. The knife and fork attack had not panned out, and they all stared blankly at the debris on the table beneath them. Mario Navarro looked as if he'd just seen his life flash before his eyes.
"Well, y'all sure wouldn't make it on Man vs. Food!" one onelooker heckled. "Where's Adam Richman when you need him?"
Unanswered question No. 2 of the day.
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The foursome admitted defeat as Jason Levy called the hour to a close. A picture was taken of the group for the restaurant's newly christened Wall of Shame, and the challenge still stands, unmet. Will someone else step up to the plate?
Anyone brave enough to tackle the 15-pound burger themselves simply has to give the French Press Café a call and at least 48 hours notice, as well as a deposit on the burger itself. If you make it all the way through -- by yourself (God forbid) or with a team -- you'll win back your deposit and win a place on the Wall of Fame.
Of course, you can always just order one of the giant burgers for your next party, too. It sure beats a tray of cold cuts.
For more photos of all the carnage -- including the construction of the burger -- check out our slideshow.