America’s Unbeaten Food Challenges
For many people, the word eating challenge evokes the iconic scene in the movie “The Great Outdoors,”when John Candy tackles “The Old 96er” to the chagrin of his digestive tract. More recently, the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” show has popularized eating challenges, which have increasingly become a strategy for restaurants across the country to make a name for themselves, draw in new customers, and simply have fun.
For those testing their fortitude through eating challenges, clearing a plate of outrageously large or spicy meals will often win them a T-shirt, their photo on the wall, and dinner on the house. There are some challenges, however, that push the limits of consumption and no individual has yet to cross the proverbial finish line.
‘That Burger’ Challenge
Restaurant: That Bar
Location: Danville, California
A massive, undefeated burger challenge can be found at That Bar in Danville, California. Appropriately named “That Burger,” the monstrous mass of meat and cheese measures approximately 1 foot in diameter, and includes two 100 percent Angus beef patties, one of which has a hole in the middle where a grilled cheese sandwich is placed. Each patty is topped with four different cheeses – cheddar, American, pepper jack and Swiss – as well as a woven bacon patty. Finally, the burger is topped with crispy shoestring fries and doused in barbeque sauce, with an appropriately sized bun. The challenge also includes one-quarter pound each of fries and onion rings on the side.
In more than 40 attempts, nobody has been able to finish the challenge in the allotted time of one hour. “We’re going to need a professional eater to do this challenge,” says Stephanie Emig, co-owner and co-founder of That Bar, which is located about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco. “We wanted to have a giant burger. It was a collaboration between the three owners and our chef, and it took a couple tries but eventually we got it to work.”
Emig says the burger was created in order to have an interesting menu item. When someone does place an order for the That Burger, it’s likely for a group to share. “It’s a popular burger on weekend nights for big groups. And if someone does manage to get through this pile of meat and grease all by themselves: They will earn a T-shirt that reads “I ate That Burger at That Bar and it was That Good.”
The Inferno Bowl
The Inferno Bowl
Restaurant: Nitally’s ThaiMex Cuisine
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Generally, there are two things that make an eating challenge difficult: sheer size of the portion, or overwhelming heat or spice. The Inferno Bowl at Nitally’s ThaiMex Cuisine has both.
The soup is served in a 48 ounce bowl and includes no less than 12 different peppers from around the world. Although the mix changes with the season, it always includes bhut jolokia (also known as the “ghost chili”). The chilies themselves comprise about 16 ounces of the soup. The restaurant uses both Thai and Mexican techniques to draw as much heat out of the peppers as possible.
Ally Valdez, who owns Nitally’s with his wife, describes how the dish was created: “My wife is from Thailand and my family is from Mexico…we always argued about who ate the hottest food. So, we went out of our way to find the hottest peppers we could use and made a soup that hardly any family members could eat.” They served the soup in traditional Chinese bowls meant for family-sized servings, but limited it to one person. “We found that the people who could eat the hot food couldn’t eat that much, and the family members who could deal with the quantity couldn’t handle the heat.”
Valdez says that since the challenge began in 2009, 116 people have attempted to finish the Inferno Bowl. The closest challenger came within two spoonfuls before throwing in the towel. Others throw in more than that. The Inferno Soup is so spicy that the restaurant requires challengers to eat it outside, since about 40 percent of the challengers have vomited while trying to finish the soup within the 30 minutes allotted.
“You have to come from the depths of hell to finish this,” says Valdez, who is currently offering a jackpot of $800 to the first person to conquer the Inferno Bowl.
The Full-o-Bull Challenge
Restaurant: Cowtown Diner
Location: Fort Worth, Texas
Not only does Cowtown Diner’s Full-o-Bull Challenge boast that it serves the largest chicken fried steak in the world, it might very well be the largest eating challenge, to boot. That’s not a surprising claim, given that things are always bigger in Texas. The Full-o-Bull “is Texas to the core,” says Scott Jones, owner of Cowtown Diner.
The challenge includes a 64 ounce chicken fried steak, served on an extra-large pizza pan, measures 14 inches in diameter and weighs about 10 pounds with gravy. But wait, that’s not all: You must also finish the Texas-sized sides, which include four pounds of mashed potatoes and 10 pieces of Texas toast.
There’s one piece of good news: The time limit to the Full-o-Bull challenge is relatively leisurely. You have from when the restaurant opens at 7 a.m. to the time it closes at 2 a.m. to finish the meal.
In the nearly two years since the challenge was created, close to 175 challengers have tried and failed to finish the Full-o-Bull. Jones says the inspiration for the challenge was to have “bragging rights in a place that is known for its beef,” and notes that when someone takes on the challenge, the staff sings songs and draws attention to the event.
If anyone ever wins the challenge, they’ll get their $70 meal on the house and a shirt that reads “I came to Cowtown Diner hungry and left Full-o-Bull.”
The J&J’s Kitchen Sink Challenge
The J&J’s Kitchen Sink Challenge
Restaurant: J&J’s Pizza Shack
Location: Northern Indiana (five locations)
In what is perhaps the oldest undefeated eating challenge in the country, the Kitchen Sink challenge at J&J’s Pizza Shack in Indiana has confounded eaters for 27 years. The pizza is the brainchild of John Bogdan, the now-retired founder of J&J’s, who created the 16-inch round deep-dish pizza, It includes sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, green olives, black olives, ham, Canadian bacon, bacon bits, and mozzarella cheese; it weighs about 6 pounds and must be completed within one hour.
Kim S., the manager at the Lake Station restaurant, says the Kitchen Sink is an extremely popular dish for J&J’s, because most orders are for groups and corporate events. In fact, The Kitchen Sink is the restaurant’s best-selling specialty pizza.
The pizza, which is intended to feed four to six people, has an estimated two to three challengers per year, and at least 100 people have attempted the challenge in the history of J&J’s. Surprisingly, the closest anyone has come in recent history to finishing the pizza was a 12-year-old girl, who ate 16 of the 20 pieces before she had to give in.
“When someone does try, the wait staff is all curious, because we really want to see someone do it,” says Kim. And, what does someone win if they do finish off the pie? They don’t have to pay the bill – the $27.55 pizza is free.
Note: The pizza pictured left is not the challenge pizza, but a normal-sized “Kitchen Sink” from J&J’s.
The Hail Mary Challenge
The Hail Mary Challenge
Restaurant: Stadium Grill
Location: Columbia, Missouri
Since opening in August 2009, Stadium Grill in Columbia, Missouri has been offering the “Hail Mary Challenge,” which involves finishing the “Unnecessary Roughness,” a massive burger measuring an impressive 8 inches high. Restaurant manager Joe Collins says more than 150 challengers have attempted to conquer the burger, including competitive eater Randy Santel. All have failed.
The Unnecessary Roughness includes five-plus pounds of meat, including griddled burgers, bacon, and pulled pork, three cheeses, onion rings, and fried eggs, all stacked between two buns. To complete the challenge, a contender not only must finish the burger but also polish off a full pound of French fries, all within 60 minutes. If someone can conquer The Hail Mary challenge, they will be rewarded with their meal on the house (a $50 value) and $50 in food and drink every month for a year. Best of all, you will become legend in your own time: The Stadium Grill will name the burger after the first victor.
Collins says the burger does a good job of bringing business to the restaurant. “We display it on the weekends for people to see, and we’ll sometimes display it out in front of the door.” Those that do order it are most likely to share it with friends. “That’s not part of the challenge,” says Collins, but he’s happy to sell it anyway he can.