Combating obesity and healthy eating dominate the media these days. Michelle Obama crusades against childhood obesity and HBO airs documentaries on the subject. In this environment, calling your restaurant ‘The Heart Attack Grill’ seems audacious and risky, but there is such a place and I felt compelled to check it out.
I prepped for my visit by skipping breakfast and playing three hard hours of tennis.
The Original HAG in Chandler, Arizona
Jon Basso opened the original Heart Attack Grill in 2005 in Chandler, Arizona, a fast-growing suburb of Phoenix. I visited this innocent-looking eatery last year, just weeks before it closed its doors. The restaurant, painted in blood red and hospital white, didn’t fit the southwest style of its neighbors, but the death of spokesman Blair River, on March 1, 2011, probably contributed to the restaurant’s demise. The 575-pound Blair died of pneumonia, not a heart attack, but the resultant publicity took the heart out of the grill, which closed its flagship site in June. A second grill had opened in Dallas in May, but this one shut down quietly last October, leaving one last restaurant in Las Vegas.
In Your Bucket Because…
- This unique and popular restaurant makes national news with its unhealthy approach to eating.
- The Heart Attack Grill offers a rare chance to live dangerously while dining.
- Only one HAG remains from the original three.
The Heart Attack Grill
When you step inside, it’s obvious you are not in a health food franchise. The décor is pure hospital, from the circular check-in counter to waitresses dressed in mini-skirted nurse uniforms. Each patron is wrist-banded and
handed a hospital gown as they are escorted to their table. Fortunately, these gowns are put on over the patrons’ clothes. A wheel chair sits near the door, but this isn’t an aid for disabled customers. Its sole use is to ferry anyone back to their car who has managed to polish off a ‘triple’ or ‘quadruple bypass’ burger.
A do-it-yourself blood pressure machine, like those in the pharmacy sections of grocery stores, was near my table. I gathered my gown about me and checked it out. The display was still on from the last user, reading an ominous 197 over 99. I looked around the room and hoped this customer had chosen to skip lunch. My eyes were drawn to a pulp fiction-looking poster featuring a sexy nurse smoking an unfiltered Lucky Strike and urging diners to try full sugared cokes and butterfat shakes.
Two video screens were suspended in the center of the grill. One highlighted vintage rock films with stars like Rod Stewart and Elvis, and the other showed customers being stethoscoped and wheel chaired to their cars.
The Menu at the Heart Attack Grill
Blood red and bold-printed, the grill’s menu takes six pages to describe a simple handful of options. Four hamburgers are listed, plus French fries, three drinks and three flavors of butterfat shakes. T-shirts are available from a vending machine. They read ‘Heart Attack Grill…Taste Worth Dying For!’ Small sizes are not sold, but you can get a size 4XL.
None of the menu choices have little hearts next to them, and don’t bother looking for a diet drink, either. ‘Flatliner’ French fries are cheap, unlimited and surprisingly tasty, but considering they are deep-fried in pure lard, one might be wise to skip them altogether.
The hamburgers are the premier offering, and the smallest one, the ‘single bypass burger’, is a full half-pound of meat with cheese. The ‘double bypass burger’ contains a staggering pound of meat plus cheese, and the ‘triple bypass burger’, as expected, holds a pound and a half of meat. Incredibly, a ‘quadruple bypass burger’ is also on the menu, with two pounds of meat and cheese. This mother of all burgers clocks in at 8,000 calories, equivalent to four days of typically recommended intake.
A ‘bonus’ for anyone ‘lucky’ enough to tip the scales at 350 pounds is a free supply of ‘single bypass’ burgers. Heavyweights can have as many as they can eat, free of charge, just for weighing in between burgers and not sharing with friends.
Controversy at the Grill
Not surprisingly, a restaurant promoting unhealthy food consumption might be expected to get some bad press, and this is certainly the case. The grill has been featured on national news reports and real nurses have objected to being portrayed as part of an unhealthy atmosphere. Medical emergencies, which occasionally happen at any restaurant, draw special attention from the media when they happen here, as was the case in February, 2012, when a customer in his 40s suffered a (non-fatal) heart attack while eating.
This doesn’t appear to bother Jon Basso, who seems to enjoy the unconventional, the controversy and the publicity. For example, in a 2011 posting to his website he suggested that, considering his limited offerings for children, it might be a good idea to provide candy cigarettes. He shared this suggestion on Facebook, where it drew considerable negative response. Characteristically, Basso concluded that posting the idea on Facebook, not the idea itself, was the mistake, and candy cigarettes are now available.
French fries deep-fried in pure lard, butterfat milkshakes, full-sugared soft drinks, 8,000-calorie burgers and candy cigarettes for kids. Eating here is more dangerous than solitary scuba diving.
- The last remaining Heart Attack Grill is in Las Vegas, Nevada
- The address is 450 Fremont Street, Suite 130
- There is no children’s menu.
- Other than bottled water, there are no diet or low-calorie items.