Earthquakes Burgers Will Shake You Up

X Earthquakes Biggest Burgers, 11526 Meridian St. S., South Hill Shopping Center, Puyallup. Burgers, hot dogs, chili ($2 to $5); 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. No alcohol, no credit cards, but checks accepted. Limited non-smoking area. No reservations. 1-848-9850.


Bless me, father, for I have dined.

It has been two days since my last consumption.

I accuse myself of driving to South Puyallup and ordering an Earthquakes double cheeseburger (known thereabouts, father, as a Double Cheesequake, with onions).

How many times, my son?

Once, father. But once is enough.

``The road of excess,'' as I am fond of quoting William Blake, ``leads to the palace of wisdom.'' But it also leads south out of Puyallup.

You drive on Meridian past the fairgrounds, go up the hill about a mile, zip through an S-curve, pass the new shopping center and hang a right near Mega Foods. There you will find the largest hamburger in the West.

This is a hamburger so monumental they had it bronzed.

``Why do they call it Earthquakes?'' asked P.J. Griffin, as we pulled into the parking lot. ``Do they weigh the meat on a Richter scale?''

They could. One's first impulse upon seeing Earthquakes' burger in the flesh, so to speak, is to laugh. Upon encountering the Earthquake doubles, one simply gasps.

How big is it? The first time I had one, I ate all that I comfortably could, which was half. The remainder I took over to the ice-cream bar and placed upon the scale (not a Richter, but accurate) that is used for weighing the ice cream that goes into the milkshakes.

The leftovers from one Double Cheesequake weighed 18 1/2 ounces. I figured that the original concoction easily was more than 2 pounds. In a trade where a quarter pounder is considered some kind of a deal - or even an industry standard - Earthquakes is making a statement.

The burger bar was founded by Larry Ball as a portable-trailer stand in 1986, perhaps as a challenge to the whole Puyallup (Western Washington State) Fair, known for burgers and onions that can be smelled as far away as Tacoma (and vice versa). In 1987 he moved to permanent quarters south of town, but he still runs his trailer stand during the three-week fair in September.

It is mobbed. Here's why:

Ball begins with what appears to be an 8-inch-wide, half-pound patty of lean ground beef. Cooked down, it overlaps a 6-inch-wide sesame bun by about a half inch all the way around. Two patties, with melted American cheese in between, are served with mayo, a couple of slices of pickle, lettuce and (optional) fried onions, measure up to about 4 inches high.

Prices on the Earthquake burgers run from $2.95 for the basic edible discus to $5.20 for the Double-bacon Swissquake.

Can anybody eat a whole one?

``Oh sure,'' Ball said. ``We have customers who will order a double 'quake, a jumbo order of fries ($1.50) and that's almost a pound of fries, and a 32-ounce jumbo pop - and walk out of here.''

You don't have to order big. Earthquakes makes regular-size, quarter-pound burgers ($1.35 to $2.10). They are called Tremors. If you eat a Tremor, you will probably have room for a milkshake. Or maybe they should be called milkquakes. Twenty-five varieties of ice cream are available. The large shake ($1.95) begins with 16 ounces of ice cream; the regular with 14 ounces.

The shakes are made the old-fashioned way, in metal containers slapped under 1950s-style steel blenders.

Earthquakes was honored by Inside Track Magazine, a journal for roller-coaster enthusiasts, as having the best burgers in the country. They presented a bronze version of a burger that, frankly, doesn't do justice to the dimensions of the real thing.

Ball grew up in Puyallup with the annual aroma of grilled beef and frying onions.

``I saw an opportunity to try to do something bigger and better,'' he said, ``and said I might as well do it. I started out on a shoestring in a plywood booth.''

Bigger? Yes. Better? Maybe.

Charbroiling would produce a better-tasting burger, but I doubt that the huge patties would hold together on a grill. The Faultline Fries are hard to fault. They are thin, curliqued and relatively greaseless. The Richter Onion Rings ($1.50 for a large portion) were rather ordinary and tasted as if the oil needed changing.

Chilidogs ($2.25) are outsized, too. Although the chili is commercially canned (Stag's Chili), it's better than most, and the frankfurters - split and grilled - are quite good. They are manufactured by Thorn Apple Valley of Southfield, Minn., and weigh in at a stout 4 ounces each.

No booze. No wine. No beer.

But the Seismographic Sundaes ($2) are a treat.