Coffee Club Diner's Goliath burger slays Joker's Peace | Video & story
July 10, 2009 · Updated 11:11 AM
I've never been one to back down from an eating contest.
In fourth grade, I went for the lunchroom record in peach cups. I downed 32 of the canned fruit slices like I was shooting jello shots, as my friends scurried around the lunchroom asking "are you gonna eat that?"
My teachers were appalled.
But that was nothing compared to the freak show that would ensue later in life, when my editor requested a first-person account of the 10-pound Burger Challenge at the Coffee Club Diner in downtown Bremerton.
Since its grand opening in May, the diner has posed this challenge to its patrons: Consume a five-pound burger and five pounds of fries in less than an hour and it's on the house. Plus you'll get your picture on the Wall of Fame and take home a $25 gift certificate for, get this, more meat from Bremerton's Minder Meats.
But if you don't finish, it'll cost you $25.
I couldn't resist. It was almost July 4 after all, and what's more American, I thought, than burgers, and gluttony, and gambling?
Although you may not have believed it when your uncle told you, competitive eating is an actual sport. Athletes train and compete under the sanction of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. There's big money, bragging rights and world records on the line.
It's the fastest growing sport in the world, some contend.
Each year, Nathan's Famous Hot Dog company marks Independence Day with the grandaddy of all eating contests — its international hot dog eating contest on New York's Coney Island. The competition has caught the nation's imagination, and gag reflex, airing on ESPN each July 4.
The competition's roots are said to date back to 1916 when a handful of immigrants challenged each other to a hot dog eating contest to decide who was the most patriotic.
When I arrived at the Coffee Club around 3 p.m., the smell of America was already wafting through the diner. I called ahead, so the 10 beef patties were on the grill, five pounds of potatoes gurgling in the frier, in anticipation of my arrival.
After circling the place like a boxer who'd just entered the ring, I asked to see my opponent, and the head chef came out, quietly sizing me up.
"I'll give you 20 minutes," he said, breaking a daunting introductory silence. "If you don't finish it in 20 minutes, that's when your stomach starts telling your brain to shut down."
He looked me in the eye with a cold, menacing stare, and headed back to the kitchen.
I played it off, cracked some jokes and did some shadow boxing, but his stare really got me thinking, was it even humanly possible to consume 10 pounds of food in under an hour? Could my digestive track even handle all that beef and starch in one sitting? Even if I did finish, would I keel over right there on the bar stool?
Surely, if Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi can annually ingest more than 60 hot dogs in less than 15 minutes, I could handle 10 pounds of burgers and fries in an hour. Sonya Thomas, The Black Widow as she's known, took down a nine-pound burger in 27 minutes in 2006.
I'd been studying the greats and had been in training to tame the 10-pound challenge at the Coffee Club. But all that went out the window when the chef brought out the behemoth, surrounded by a mountain of fries, served on an extra-large pizza dish.
The 10 patties were skewered twice to keep them upright.
It was an intimidating sight, to say the least. But I couldn't back down. Instead, I attacked it, grabbing the skewers and getting after it like some kind of hamburger kebob.
I ate with that fervor for the first 10 minutes or so, taking down a pound or two of beef and a pound or two of fries. But right around the 15 minute mark, my vision started to blur and my pores started to feel like they were sweating cheese.
"You guys have dessert, right?" I asked, still trying to play off the fear. "You know, for after I'm done with this?"
"You can't have your pudding, unless you eat your meat," the chef said, laughing diabolically back to the kitchen.
Out of spite for those cruel Pink Floyd lyrics, I went back at it feverishly.
But this time, my insides started seizing up. First I lost my sense of smell, followed shortly by the feeling in my legs as I was overcome by a certain burger-induced vertigo. Leaning against the lunch counter, I stared at the insurmountable pile of food, doing my best to choke down what was in my mouth, and noticed the timer had hit the 20-minute mark.
"That's your stomach telling your brain that it's full," the chef taunted. "Fight it!"
But, despite all attempts, I ended up spending the rest of the hour fighting to keep the food from coming back up and fighting to keep my dignity in the face of failure. As I held my head in despair, a guy across the counter, who'd witnessed the whole freak show, stood up to leave.
"Well," he said, searching for a kosher farewell, "I hope your arteries aren't clogged."
At the news of my failure, my disillusioned editor told me not to sweat it like I had the cheese.
"You can try again next week," she said.
The Coffee Club Diner is located at 417 Park Ave. in Bremerton. The 10-pound Challenge still stands, with 12 contenders having attempted thus far, all of them unsuccessful. Info: www.thecoffeeclubdiner.com, (360) 627-8147.