Column by Ian Stout
“Eat Burgers, not Brains,” says Zombie Burger in downtown Des Moines. Emblazoned on the sign, a zombified hand is grasping a burger with all the ferocity a good meal deserves. Apocalyptic window boards and murals of zombies scream “Danger!” but the smells wafting out into the street and the sizzle of the grills sing another story. Dusk has settled and there’s a line of customers stretching out the door, each bending and swaying closer to the door, marionettes to their stomach’s desire.
Accompanied by Matt Grygo ’16, I shuffle to join the horde. The horde is particularly vocal tonight and can’t stop talking about “The Walking Ched,” a burger born into this world by the inhuman imaginations of American chefs. Seeing as I am eating at a zombie restaurant, I decide there’s nothing I’d rather have.
While waiting for our table, I notice that the restaurant is both a “Food and Drink Lab.” Several waitresses brush past me to confirm the fact, each carrying a tray of milkshakes and burgers. The experience is ephemeral, only showing me a few glimpses of the food to stoke my flames of hunger. After what seems like a year (it was only 20 minutes, the service is top-notch!) my name is called, and I walk inside with Grygo.
The restaurant has an interior reminiscent of a safe house—the windows are wide but boarded with harsh metal, the seats are raised to provide high ground and zombies are swarming around me. The zombies are made of paint and safely behind frames, which helps create the customer experience. You aren’t the meal after all.
Instead of a menu, our table has two newspapers warning us about the impending apocalypse. There are fun, zombie-themed community submissions in the paper, but my stomach simply doesn’t allow me the patience to read anything but the food menu. Lo and behold, my holy grail awaits me. “The Walking Ched” is described on the menu with “breaded, deep fried macaroni and cheese bun, bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized and raw onion, macaroni and cheese and mayo.” It sounds like a heart attack moshed between two heart attacks, a tombstone to write my obituary upon. It sounds like my dinner order.
Any good dinner order needs something to wash it down, so I peruse the “Drink Lab” I’ve heard so much about. The shakes alone offer a staggering amount of options: cereal shakes, cake shakes, floats, all offered with the choice to spike your milkshake. I spend countless moments debating my choices, but the “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” cereal shake wins it for me.
Even though the restaurant is filled to the brim with hungry customers, my food comes quickly and the server spends a few moments offering strategies to eat my behemoth of a burger.
“You are a zombie,” he states, conviction ringing in his voice. “A survivor dressed as a sheriff just now fell off his horse right in front of you. You’ve been searching Atlanta for a hot meal. Go to town.”
The first bite of “The Walking Ched” was overwhelming. Tastes and textures pinballed between my taste buds—crunchy, fried cheese one moment, crispy caramelized onions and bacon the next. The burger’s double-stacked patties are cooked to perfection, drizzled with cheese and flattened under the sheer weight of toppings. I give it an appreciative heft, bringing the full pound burger back for a second tasting. The fried mac-and-cheese buns part with a satisfying crunch, dribbling a warm cheese sauce down my face. The combination of mac and cheese and bacon molds into a hearty, jaw-dropping sensation that leaves me licking the plate clean.
To wash it down, I heft my large metal spoon and shovel a large dollop of my cinnamon-swirled shake. The sweet vanilla crunches into a delicious, sugary cinnamon as I bite down into several pieces of the delectable cereal stored inside. I want to say this milkshake is the cherry on top of my meal, but that doesn’t do it justice. This meal is everything you could want in an American zombie lifestyle: fried, sweet, crunchy goodness.
If I was to offer one critique for Zombie Burger’s special meals, it would be the bloated, self-disgusted feeling after eating them. Ten minutes after feasting, I am convinced they will send me to the grave. Perhaps this is how the zombie apocalypse starts, I think to myself.
Zombie Burger has two locations in Des Moines: 300 E Grand Avenue (East Village) and 101 Jordan Creek Pkwy.
Want me to review a restaurant? Email [stoutian17].
Column by Ian Stout