From the start, Potato Flats feels off. In line, a woman asks if I want a white or sweet potato. Not having prepared for that one, I say, "uh, white?" She proceeds to cut and clobber a white potato with a silver potato-clobbering machine. She asks if I want salt, pepper and butter. A customer in front of me asked for butter, and her potato was painted with a pale yellow liquid. Knowing I'm about to punish my liver and colon with "The Cheeseburger," which I'd read involves a lake of cheese sauce, I kill the butter.
What follows is one of the most unsettling cheeseburger experiences I've had all year. The server asks if I want to add any vegetables. Apparently I blankly stammered, "Uhhhhh," because she finishes my thought. "You just want what comes with it?"
That's when she makes the burger pile.
On top of that thick, steaming, white potato, she dumps crumbles of ground beef, enough cheese sauce to fill a jacuzzi, diced tomatoes, more shredded cheese, bits of chives and an ice-cream scoop of chopped pickles. She hands me the plate, which is made of sturdy paper. It's a good thing, too, because The Cheeseburger at Potato Flats is so dense and heavy that it feels like carrying a grocery bag full of cans or a pot-bellied puppy. Bad country pop is playing as I use those new digital soda machines to computerize me some water.
Above the potato food-pile line, a massive, Blade Runner-y neon sign reads "POTATO FLATS 'A Meal in Itself'." I stare at it awhile, trying to parse what "a meal in itself" means. Isn't a meal always a meal in itself? (I think there's a joke about KFC Famous Bowls in here somewhere.) Also, sweet hellmouth Santa Claus is this plate heavy.
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SHOW ME HOW
My plate looks like a burger world. There's Pickle Mountain, Cheese Lake, and undulating hills of tomatoes -- all atop the United States of Potato. Even with all that burger stuff, it wholly lacks flavor. The best part is the potato, which from that first blast of salt and pepper is good and hot and salty. The potato skin (buried under burger grounds) isn't half bad, either.
The burger portion is an unsettling, deconstructed mess. The meat is sometimes juicy, other times dry enough to cough. There is so much cheese that I instantly feel like I have cheese sauce all over me -- between my fingers, behind my ears. After a minute, the sauce (which tasted like American Cheese) congeals around the burger crumbles.
It's the sad food of the future, as predicted by a bad 1950s science fiction novel. I am the American character on a future human colony on Mars, where food is mountain-sized and served on huge potatoes. You've got a massive neon food sign, a computerized soda delivery system, and enough carbohydrates to last a year in your brand new space home! I barely get through the iceberg's tip of the burger before I'm full.
I didn't intend to order a burger at Potato Flats, but I leave wanting one. Maybe this shouldn't be a meal in itself.