Ever since Homer Simpson battled the scruffy truck driver Big Red in a “Sirloin a Lot” eating contest, pushing the limits of the human stomach has become as American as (eating 66) hot dogs or (several pounds of) apple pie. Whether it’s Joey Chestnut polishing off dozens of dogs in 12 minutes or Adam Richman taking on America’s toughest food challenges in the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, gastronomic gluttony has taken off. In fact, plenty of local joints will reward your bottomless stomach if you’re up to the challenge.
After years of being a pizza enthusiast, when I heard about the 28-inch challenge at Stafford’s Family Pizzeria, I had to try it. Two-person teams get one hour to eat a 28-inch pizza, which is roughly the equivalent of three 18-inch pizzas.
My confidence was further boosted when discussing possible toppings with my teammate, Tommy. We decided on half pineapple-and-bacon and half pepperoni-and-sausage so we wouldn’t get tired of a certain flavor.
In the end, none of that mattered. My jaw dropped when I saw owner Mike Cain place more pizza in front of me than I’d ever seen in my life. I should’ve known something was up when I read the official challenge rule sheet: Complete the entire pizza in one hour and win $100. Teams are disqualified “if the pizza exits your body at any point,” something that occurs more often than you’d think. “I’d say upwards of 40 percent of people who try it end up puking,” Cain said. Wonderful.Tommy and I failed miserably. After eating more than our bodies could reasonably handle, we had barely finished half of the mammoth pizza. “A pathetic showing,” Cain said. The challenge has been tried by more than 100 teams in a little over a year, with only three successful. The last group, two professional eaters from Herndon, finished the pizza in less than a half hour. “They were eating like you or I would be talking,” he said.
Luckily, if pizza’s not your thing, there are plenty of other food challenges in the area.
Challenge: Six-pound milkshake and a one-pound burger. Where: Chick & Ruth’s Delly (165 Main St., Annapolis; 410-269-6737) Prize: T-shirt Price: $19.99 for the milkshake, $7.50 for the burger.
Cool off from the summer heat with “the world’s largest milkshake,” the equivalent of six normal shakes. General manager Chuck Munyon says he’s seen only a couple of people successfully down the frozen treat, so naturally the restaurant is going to up the ante by requiring would-be conquerors to eat a one pound burger as well to earn a coveted Colossal Challenge T-shirt. In case a pounder isn’t enough, two- and three-pound burgers are also available. “The milkshakes are really popular during commissioning week,” Munyon says. “Naval Academy graduates like to try to finish one before they leave Annapolis.” Challenge: Nine-pound burger. With condiments and the bun, it adds up to 15.4 pounds of food. Where: BGR the Burger Joint (4827 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-358-6137) Prize: 15.4 pounds of free food. Price: If you don’t finish, you have to pay $79.99. If you do finish, it’s free.
One of the more difficult food challenges you’ll ever see, the nine-pounder comes with a free bottle of Maalox for anyone who attempts to eat it solo. The burger, which is topped with two heads of lettuce, six tomatoes, two onions, four whole pickles and “a river” of condiments, is more popular for parties, where it can serve about ten adults. Only one person has ever tried to eat the burger alone, and he got about halfway through before calling it quits. It’s not something you can do on the spur of the moment: The restaurant requires 24 hour’s notice and has to “cook it like a meat loaf—you can’t grill something that big,” says manager Reginald Anderson. Challenge: 28-inch pizza. Where: Family Pizzeria (1924 Jeff Davis Hwy., Stafford; 540-288-3277). Prize: $100, free pizza, drinks, and a T-shirt. Price: $33 for a two-topping pizza.
This tiny pizzeria, which proved my downfall, offers the best incentive—$100 prize—for finishing its mammoth two-topping pizza, but be prepared for manager Mike Cain to hurl playful insults your way. “Notice how the excuses flow,” he told one team as they said they had chosen the wrong toppings. The joint has a strict don’t-puke-in-my-restaurant rule, and anyone who doesn’t make it to the Dumpster outside will be charged a $50 cleanup fee, something that happens more often than you’d think, Cain says. Coming soon? The “Steak-a-Saurus,” a 45-minute, six-pound steak-and-cheese challenge.
Challenge: OutrageouSplit. Where: BR Frozen Custard & Sweets (4125 Merchant Plaza, Woodbridge; 703-590-2122). Prize: Free frozen custard, T-shirt, picture on a wall of fame to be adored and envied by the masses. Price: $14.95, or free if eaten within 30 minutes.
Would-be eating champions have 30 minutes to eat nine scoops of frozen custard, nine toppings, three bananas, whipped cream, and three cherries. Think 30 minutes is tough? Local professional eater Ian Hickman completed the challenge in just six minutes and 47 seconds. “Most people run out of room, not time,” says Rory Frank, who owns the establishment with his wife. To date, only six people have successfully completed the challenge, even though more than 300 have tried in the three years the restaurant has been open. “We got the idea watching Nathan’s [hot-dog-eating contest] before we even opened the restaurant. We just wanted to do something different. I think that’s important as a locally owned place,” Frank says. He suggests traditional toppings such as strawberries, pineapples, and chocolate syrup, because “Skittles and M&M’s can get tough to chew at that temperature.”
Challenge: Flatliner Wings. Where: Buffalo Wing Factory (13067 Lee Jackson Hwy., Chantilly, 703-263-0202; 22034 Shaw Rd., Sterling; 703-406-0505; 43761 Parkhurst Plaza, Ashburn, 703-729-4200; 2260-D Hunters Woods Pl., Reston, 703-390-9015). Prize: Your name on the “wall of flame” and a Flatliner T-shirt. Price: Varies by the day, and it depends on how many you buy. The regular price is $8.29 for ten wings, but Monday they’re 49 cents each, Tuesday 25 for $13.99, and Thursday all you can eat for $13.99.
You’ll need to sign a release form to even try eating these hot wings. “People who weren’t used to spicy foods were eating them, and it was really throwing them off,” says Jared Charlery, manager of the restaurant’s Chantilly location. If you can eat ten or more of these hot wings, you get your name on a “wall of flame” and a Flatliner T-shirt. The record is 42, and 55 people have completed the challenge. Charlery says the best day to do it is Thursday, when the restaurant has all-you-can-eat specials: “We tell waiters to recommend customers do it at the end of their meal. Trying it at the beginning can really ruin your meal.”
Know of any other local food challenges we missed? Leave ’em in the comments!