Fork in the Road: Topeka Tavern synonymous for pizza-sized burger

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) The beloved Cheeseburger. It’s the staple on menus of just about every bar and grill in America.

Brian and Deb Harrod serve one of their signature 3-pound "Speck Burgers" to a group of hungry customers.

Same could be said for Speck's Bar and Grill in Topeka, except they do things just a little differently.

Their menu has evolved quite a bit since Franklin “Speck” Benge first opened for business back in 1957. Second generation owner Deb Harrod says back then, it was just 3.2 beer, some bar snacks and Stewart Sandwiches.

“We had this small machine, and you took the wrapper off the sandwich and put it in there. We only had one kind, it was his favorite called the ‘Chuck Wagon’ -- and what kind of meat? Well, I don’t know.”

Deb took over her dad’s bar after he passed away in the late 80’s. In the process, she left a lot of things the same, except for the menu. Which included one big addition.

“They thought it was crazy, but when they tried it, they loved it,” Deb said about early reviews of what has become Speck's signature 'dish,' so to speak. The three pound Speck Burger and fries.

“You start out with the homemade bun, you take six half-pound burgers, cook them, flatten them out, add lettuce, pickle, onion and tomato if you want.”

It’s cut into eight slices and served with three pounds of fresh cut fries, homemade chips, onion rings, or a combination of any of the three.

Like any respectable eatery that serves a massive-sized specialty item, there’s a standing challenge to anyone who can polish off the entire thing.

Co-owner Brian Harrod said the rule are pretty straight forward.

“You must consume the burger, and the fries -- not the rings, not the chips, you have to do the three pounds of fries and the burger in 45 minutes or less," he said.

The Speck Burger feeds 6 to 8 people and runs about 30 dollars. It’s a little more if you want cheese. The feast is free if you’re hungry enough to take on this challenge and actually succeed.

Cook Kent Hall has been serving up these monstrosities for more than eight years, and says it’s a challenge he has seen many attempt, but few succeed, however, some have came very close.

“One of the guys that tried to do it couldn’t have been more than 120 pounds, and he came real close to doing it. He only had about a handful of french fries left," said Hall.

While it's one of their biggest calling cards, The Harrod’s say there’s a lot more to Speck’s than their three pound burger.

“A lot of the locals who have been coming here have been coming here since they were kids. Their parents or grandparents brought them in and as they’ve grown up, they bring their kids in. It’s a very family friendly atmosphere,” said Brian.

The decor has changed very little inside Specks over the years. Signs of Speck -- who was an avid fisherman -- remain all around, especially in the beer cooler, where all the cans are upside down.

“We use to have these roll top coolers and he use to clean fish on them, and fish scales and fish guts would get on them, so I have a habit of putting everything upside down," Deb laughingly explains.

Marc Houser says he’s at Speck’s once or twice a week, and it isn’t just the food that keeps him coming back.

“Deb and Brian take really good care of their customers and it’s like a personal dynamic you don’t get anymore. When we come in, they know exactly what we are going to order and what we’re going to drink. You don’t get that anymore,” said Marc.

Specks opens at 11 a.m. every day and are located at the corner of SW 21st and Seabrook Ave in Topeka (just west of 21st and Gage Blvd). They host live music on Sunday nights, Taco Tuesdays and offer a wide array of menu items -- not just burgers.

Deb and Brian say all their buns are home made and menu items like the tenderloin and Reuben are also popular among their regulars.