We Tried It!

Are You Up to the Clinton Hall Burger-Eating Challenge?

Just in time for one of our nation’s great eating holidays (that’s the Fourth of July, not to be confused with Memorial Day, Labor Day, Christmas, or the Super Bowl), What Should We Do editor Danielle Murphy gives it everything she’s got.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Good beer. Good food. Good times.” It’s a motto anyone, everyone, should strive to live by. It’s also a motto that restaurant (and winner of Food Network’s 2018 Burger Bash Best Burger in NYC) Clinton Hall stands for, as demonstrated by its mouthwatering menu of craft burgers and supercraft beers. However, the promise behind these words failed me recently—or perhaps, I failed them.

How, you ask? Because my eyes-are-bigger-than-my-stomach, 123-pound, delusional self tried to consume this…

clinton hall challenge
The mother of all burger challenges. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

…on my own.

This is the Clinton Hall Challenge: Finish off a burger behemoth comprised of a trio of juicy patties, American cheese slices, buns, applewood-smoked bacon, jumbo onion rings, a staggering amount of french fries, and possibly the souls of those who have attempted to take it on before, and then wash it all down with a pint of beer. Separately, these are the ingredients that burger and beer aficionados search for far and wide. Together, they make a meal for royalty. Only problem: One person has to eat it, and s/he has 25 minutes to consume. All. Of. It. (The last attempt the day I tried was made by rap artist and competitive eater Badlands Booker, who not only succeeded, but also crushed the record by doing it in nine minutes and 50 seconds.)

Could I possibly compete with someone whose first name is Badlands? Maybe. If my coworkers have learned anything about me during my two and a half years at What Should We Do, it’s that I have a healthy appetite. I’m usually the one going up for seconds (yeah, and thirds) on Free Lunch Friday. They’re even on a first-name basis with my food baby, Riley, who likes to make her presence known via stomach growls if she is not fed every 30 minutes. So expectations were high as I walked into the 36th Street restaurant.

My first mistake, however, was ignoring the age-old adage, “Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.” I scoured the web for evidence of the challenge; from the photos I found, none of them looked, well, that intimidating. Challenge? More like a slightly larger Big Mac.

Oh, naive Danielle of the recent past!

I should have known I was in for a dangerous situation when the waitress responded to my order with, “This is for the table, right?” Once the giant tray was placed before me, I could imagine the heart-dropping sensation that kid from Matilda felt during the infamous chocolate cake scene. Gone was the mental image of that underwhelming burger; everything multiplied in size. I counted the patties to make sure they didn’t make a mistake (nope, they didn’t). Why did the onion rings have to be three inches thick? Even the tomatoes added unexpected heft.

clinton hall challenge
Five minutes before Danielle’s self-induced food coma. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

I had barely recovered from my initial shock before the clock started and the challenge was officially under way. Then I remembered that I was ravenous, having waited until 1:30 p.m. to eat anything that day, and I dug in. The first handful of fries gave me the salty satisfaction I was craving; I may have gotten through a quarter of the tray before even looking at the burger. When I finally turned to the main event—three LaFrieda patties smothered in melted cheese—it occurred to me that my hunger might actually be strong enough to get me through this. One mouthwatering bite led to another and another; nothing satiated me. Nothing could stop me.

And then it happened: I hit a wall, and I hit it hard. I’m not sure which part of the meal was the catalyst for my sudden food coma, but I suspected the pint of CH’s Supercraft Gigawatt (a New England–style IPA) didn’t help. I’m not much of an IPA drinker, so that, plus the 7.8 percent alcohol content level, only added to the discomfort I was experiencing.

“Try dipping the fries into the beer. That’s what the professionals do,” suggested Mark, our database guy who knows his beer. In a desperate attempt to get a second wind, I tried it. It did not have the desired effect. I tried picking apart the burger. One bite of bread here. A nibble at the bacon there. I attempted to slowly chew a pickle slice. My resolve wavered—and so much food was left to consume.

By the 13-minute mark, I was wheezing slightly and downing water like I had just spent three days out at sea. Minutes later, I had forgotten where I was, who was around me. Was my vision getting fuzzy? My ego had taken control; it was the only thing keeping my hands reaching for the fries and putting them into my mouth. Just…keep…eating. Finally, mercifully, the waitress called it.

Danielle succumbs to her food coma. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

It was a valiant—if gruesome—effort, but also a humbling one. (You can watch a time-lapse video of the whole thing here.) My final, too-full thoughts: Food-challenge newbies should proceed with caution. Clinton Hall took a hard look at my petite frame and innocent smile, and then showed absolutely zero mercy. However, I encourage bigger, hungrier folks to go all in. Challenge aside, this is a damn good burger. The fries are the right amount of salty; the bacon is juicy; and you can tell that this establishment makes your food, from the buns to the pickles on top, with love. I’m happy to accept defeat from a meal well worth the $39 loss—and the undulating waves of nausea that followed.

Looking for more eating adventures? How about a taco crawl, a deep-dive doughnut tasting, or a tour of NYC’s best barbecue joints?