All photos by Vincent DiVito.
The Burger King Whopper Bar is, according to some ad copy, “a unique dining experience for the Whopper connoiseur (sic), with premium toppings and gourmet sandwiches you won't find anywhere else.” They have locations in only the finest cosmopolitan cities, like South Beach, Las Vegas, and Kansas City, and a visit to their website is like stepping into a chilled-out lounge for hamburger fetishists: “My onions are angry,” intones a sexy woman’s voice over a generic beat. I’m no Whopper connoisseur, but the idea of building your own burger intrigued me.
The New York location is referred to as the flagship, I guess because it has a second level, which was closed when I arrived. The place was covered with refuse and trash. Every surface was layered with a film of grime. When I arrived at around eight on a Monday night there was a small line that took forever to move; clearly, this wasn’t “fast” food. Finally, I reached the front.
“What toppings do you want?”
“All of them, please. Every topping.”
“Uh, OK.” The cashier looked a little confused. He started punching it in onto his touchscreen. “Do you want Smoked Bacon or Pepper Bacon?”
“Both varieties of bacon, please.”
“What type of cheese?”
“All cheeses. I want all the cheeses you offer.”
At this point he told me he would need a manager. It seemed as though the system didn't allow for this many selections. The manager appeared and—after I pounded my fist on the counter and told him I wanted it my way, dammit—showed the cashier how to punch in all the different toppings. Here's the complete list, with descriptions lifted from the BKWB's website:
• Smoked Bacon: Hardwood-smoked to perfection.
• Sauteed Mushrooms: Cooked to a golden brown.
• Grilled Onions: Chopped fine, smokey sweet.
• Tomatoes: Sliced fresh and juicy.
• Mozzarella: Fresh, all-natural cheese.
• Guacamole: Puree of avocado and light spices.
• Crispy Onions: Lightly battered golden onions.
• Blue Cheese Crumbles: Sharp, salty and pungent.
• Lettuce: Garden-ripe and crisp.
• Pepperoni: Spicy, cured Italian flavor.
• Pepper Bacon: Thick, with a hint of spice.
• Cheddar: Sharp, whole-milk cheese.
• Pickles: Finely aged in a dill brine.
• Jalapenos: Bold, palatable heat.
• Swiss: Nutty, mild-flavored cheese.
• American: Rich, semi-sharp cheese.
• Onions: Raw, snap and zest.
• Onion Rings: Crunchy, classic taste.
Then there were the sauces:
• BBQ: The southern original sauce.
• Blackened Cajun: Bold and spicy essence of Creole cuisine.
• A.1. (TM) Thick & Hearty: Gourmet Steak Sauce.
• Bourbon Flavored: Tangy sauce with a Kentucky twist.
• Thousand Island: With finely chopped veggies.
Sitting down at the table, I hefted the monstrosity into my hands. I swear this thing weighed nearly five pounds. And it reeked. The burger itself felt cold at the bottom, and the sickly-sweet whiff I got when I opened the container burned my eyes and churned my guts. The bun was quickly growing saturated with sauces and juices and was melting onto my hands. The guacamole was seeping like green snot and the other sauces were running together, congealing into a shiny brown coating.
I had every intention of putting this entire beast inside of my body but when I took my first bite I knew instantly that something was wrong, and I immediately spit it out, retching uncontrollably before heaving over the side of the booth. The intense sweetness and sourness tingled and burned even after I spat it out. My fingers were coated with guacamole and ketchup dripped down my forearms like blood. I grabbed my “medium soda” (the Whopper Bar only serves sizes Medium and Small, although a medium is humungous and a small is large) and tried to rinse my mouth out.
The thing before me seemed to be digesting itself. The acids in the sauces were melting the burger, bun, and cheeses together into a slurry, evolving before my eyes into a food group yet undiscovered by scientists. I figured if I took a quick little bite and chewed it up real quickly I could force it down my craw into my gullet and maybe make some progress. No such luck. As soon as the horrible experiment entered my mouth my tongue instinctively forced it back out in an effort to keep its host alive.
Most of the time when you hear the word “inedible” it is being used in the figurative sense. As in, “This pate de foi gras is so dry, it's practically inedible!” But here I'm using it in the literal, scientific sense. The Whopper I created was no longer a food product, although I suppose its component parts are sort of considered to be food in and of themselves. I once heard about a man in the Guinness Book of World Records who consumed an entire small airplane by slowly dismantling it and eating very tiny pieces over the course of months. I think that might be the only way to actually eat the thing that malevolently sat in front of me.
There was something about the acidity levels in the Whopper that made my body reject it on a cellular level, the way a body would reject a heart transplant from a monkey. On the train ride home I felt light-headed and woozy, and I didn't shit normally for the next 18 hours. It’s days later and my perception of all food, from street vendors to lobster, has changed. I still have a hint of that hideous, overwhelming flavor at the back of my throat every time I swallow. I thought I was going to consume a Whopper, but it turned out the Whopper consumed me.