Americans may not be venturing out to restaurants as much as as they once did, but when they get there they can certainly indulge.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest released this year's Xtreme Eating Awards, and despite their annual tradition of attempting to shame restaurants for their calorie-laden offerings, restaurants are still unabashed about conjuring up rich dishes.
This year's list has a clear trend: Restaurants are stacking sandwiches and entrees with more items, and the result is eye-popping calorie and fat counts.
Among the entrees tipping the scales is Denny's Fried Cheese Melt, which consists of four fried mozzarella sticks stuffed inside a melted cheese grilled sandwich. The item, which is served with French fries, has 1,260 calories and 21 grams of saturated fat (a full day's worth).
CSPI notes that this one sandwich is the equivalent of eating two Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizzas, which not too many people would be willing to do with a good conscience.
Cheesecake Factory had two products end up on the infamous list: its Farmhouse Cheeseburger and its Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake. Both products have more than 1,530 calories each — and that's if you only eat the burger, not the fries that come with it.
The Farmhouse Cheeseburger is no standard cheeseburger. It's topped with grilled, smoked pork belly, cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo and a fried egg.
It's the layers that also help the cheesecake rack up the calories. It's made with alternating layers of red velvet cake and cheesecake, topped with cream cheese frosting, chocolate shavings and a dollop of whipped cream.
But the calorie count in this dessert really shouldn't be a shocker when you consider that the slice weighs three-quarters of a pound!
Again, CSPI puts the dessert's calorie count in perspective. Eating one slice is like eating one Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza plus two McDonald's Quarter Pounders with cheese, except that the cheesecake has an additional day's worth of saturated fat. Yikes!
Other eye-popping restaurants on the list included Kahala's Cold Stone Creamery's PB&C Shake. A 24-ounce, "Gotta Have It" size shake has a day's calories (2,010) and three and half day's worth of saturated fat (68 grams).
Again, the comparisons drive the point home: Drinking one of these shakes is like swallowing two 16-ounce T-bone steaks plus a buttered baked potato.
Of course restaurants like to say they offer consumers choices, and this is true. For example, DineEquity's Applebee's had its provolone-stuffed meatballs with fettuccine on the list. Served with a piece of garlic bread, the entree tallies 1,520 calories, 43 grams of saturated fat and 3,700 milligrams of sodium.
No doubt most people know that a pasta dish isn't likely to be diet food, but this dish is like eating two of Applebee's 12-ounce rib-eye steaks plus a side of its garlic mashed potatoes, and that may be a harder concept to understand just looking at the menu.
Fortunately, health-conscious consumers who want nutritional information on the menu will be getting their wish. The Food and Drug Administration is finalizing a set of rules that will require this information.
CSPI hopes this will encourage chain restaurants to stop competing to come up with more outlandish dishes, but all that is certain is the new practice might take some of the "shock and awe" people feel when they look at lists like the ones CSPI compiles.