- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

In the national culinary derby, bigger often is better, with colossal dishes and vast portions dedicated to every red-blooded American who ever mispronounced the words “au jus.”

For all who have stood in a semicoherent state while a chef extracted half a steer and a small sprig of parsley from something known as a “steamship round,” we bring tidings. It’s official: The Las Vegas Hilton is home to the world’s largest all-you-can-eat buffet — all 510 items of it, including fried alligator. The feast stretches 500 feet, requires 20 chefs to keep it primed, is underwritten by Alka-Seltzer and has made the “Guinness World Records” book.

Yes, it has Mongolian chicken, salmon Wellington and soba noodles — along with staples from a belt-loosening Sunday afternoon. Indeed, the menu lists not steamship round but its swanky cousin — “carved baron of beef,” which very well may be an office within the Cabinet of French President Jacques Chirac.

Also among the offerings: bone-in ham, shrimp cocktail, crab legs — well, there’s a reason Alka-Seltzer got in on the act.

The Guinness record was set March 28 at the Hilton, which barely blinked over the achievement — perhaps because the 3,000-room hotel has 21 other assorted eateries, including Quark’s Bar and Grill, named for the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” character of the same name. Deep space cuisine is proffered by waiters with tricorders, and there’s blue beer and something called Glop on a Stick at meal’s end.

Yes, thank you, sir. The glop looks delicious. My friend here will have it a la mode.

But let us move on to another entry in the bigger-is-better derby. Several hundred miles — or light-years — away stands America’s largest family-owned restaurant. Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, Mich., can seat more than 1,500 guests in 10 dining rooms; employs 200 servers; and annually prepares 840,000 pounds of chicken, 628,000 pounds of cabbage, 110,000 pounds of vegetables and 26,000 pounds of coffee.

Zehnder’s will host an industrial-strength Easter buffet next Sunday, just in case the mood strikes.

One may enjoy, and this is verbatim from the menu: family-style chicken; noodle soup; cabbage salad; Zehnder’s cheese spread and chicken liver pate with garlic toast, stollen and white breads and butter; preserves; large-curd cottage cheese; cranberry relish; mashed potatoes; Mother’s dressing; giblet gravy; vegetable of the day; and ice cream dessert. The price is $4.75 to $17.95 a person.

The children’s menu features the inevitable chicken fingers and fries, with cabbage salad just to remind the little people that they are in the Midwest.

It also led us to a brief interlude in our travels, dedicated to anyone who has ever thrown food, hidden under the dinner table or fed his or her entree to the dog. Indiana University has completed a study of that magic time that occurs before the chicken fingers arrive. Researchers monitored the table manners of 51 children at the Colonial Pancake House near South Bend.

“During observation, children were noted for the following types of misbehavior: fighting with siblings, yelling at the family, standing on chairs, playing away from the table, throwing food, spitting at siblings and interrupting conversations,” the researchers stated.

The study eventually determined that “45 percent of the children complied with their parents’ management” and that 27 percent of the parents did not even try to “manage” their children.

Moving along quickly, let’s examine the world’s biggest steak, at 72 ounces — that’s 4 pounds — courtesy of the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. It comes with salad and potato, roll and shrimp cocktail. The restaurant will give $50 to intrepid diners who finish the meal in an hour. More than 37,000 have tried and 6,200 have succeeded, including more than 90 women.

Not to be outdone, Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pa., produced the world’s biggest hamburger in late March, weighing in at 15 pounds and $40. This behemoth burger takes two hours to broil, is topped with 1 cups each of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, plus an entire head of lettuce, a pair of onions, three tomatoes and 25 slices of cheese. Most telling, the big burger is the equivalent of 45 quarter-pounder burgers.

Such larger-than-life edibles might inspire headlines about indulgent, extravagant America.

Hah. No way.

Here at the Sunday Dinner at Mom’s Desk, we have ample evidence that for every monster item on their menus, our restaurants even things up with something minuscule. Several, in fact, are in contention for serving the world’s smallest sundae — including George Brett’s of Kansas City, the Woodshed in Tamworth, N.H., the Embers restaurants of Iowa and Wisconsin, and the ChiChi’s and Silver Diner franchises.

The winner, maybe? It could be Brother Jimmy’s Bait Shack in New York City — its diminutive dessert arrives in a shot glass for $1.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and cholesterol for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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