Naturally Joey Tribbiani from my favorite childhood sitcom, “Friends,” comes to mind as I stare in awe at this meal fit for me and my three siblings.
“You are my Everest,” I say quickly laughing to myself.
But really, I’ve got to find space in my stomach for a double “Manly Stanley” burger. That’s four hamburger patties, Swiss, cheddar, bacon, fried eggs, fried pickles, onion rings, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and wing sauce. Oh, and I’ve got to finish the side of fries, too, which they happened to be more than generous with today.
I’m not attempting to eat an entire turkey by myself like Joey foolishly tried to do. Instead I’m (foolishly) taking on one of Lawrence’s many eating challenges: the “Everest Challenge” at 23rd Street Brewery.
And by accomplishing such a feat, I get my name on a chalkboard, a T-shirt and the meal is free.
I'm pretty sure it’s comes at the cost of my dignity, however. Everyone in this section of the restaurant is staring; partly because they sense my fear, partly because I have a photographer in my face documenting such a grotesque event and I’m sure one of those poor saps thinks I can actually do it.
Professional eaters spend the day before a big contest eating watermelon, grapes, lettuce or cabbage, popular because they are mostly water and easily processed through the body quickly. They eat their water-based food of choice until they can’t, expanding their stomachs 24 hours before the challenge. Other tricks include intense liquid consumption six hours before and working out two hours before to induce hunger.
Often times they “practice” at buffets once a week.
All right, so I didn’t do any of those things. I skipped breakfast though, and the sight of layers of bacon and golden fries becomes my biggest inspiration. I am woman, hear me roar.
I am avoiding drinking too much water, and I’m well aware that in 15 to 20 minutes my body will realize I’ve made some mistakes; that’s how long it takes for your body to realize it’s full. The winning strategy (so I’ve read) is to eat the meat, vegetables, bun and finally fries, in that order. I’m using a fork to cut off meek bites of layers of meat, not strategically, but because there’s enough protein on this thing to make finding anything else a treasure hunt.
As I inch my way into the side, I lose momentum and am left staring at an only 25 percent complete mission. With all the time in the world (though they’d kick me out at closing, I guess), and no interest in getting sick, I’m reduced to shamefully requesting a to-go box and the check.
How could I have lost?
Oh right, I’m a normal human being with the capacity for one burger and half of that serving of fries. No free T-shirt, my name will not join 15 others on the chalkboard of fame, and alas, the $30 bill comes to the table.
You won this time, burger.
The Everest Challenge at 23rd Street Brewery is just one of eating challenges a handful (or is it mouthful?) of restaurants in Lawrence offer. Here are a few more:
Choose your own Lawrence food challenge
“Sumo Challenge” at DonDon Japanese Rice and Noodle Bowl Shop
You have to eat five rice bowls (of your choice) in under an hour. You are not allowed to throw up during that hour. No strategic bathroom breaks (to forcibly vomit because it’s that serious), and upon finishing the five bowls, you also cannot throw up for 10 minutes. If you’re a successful glutton (so far, only five) you get on the wall of fame, a T-shirt, and the $30 meal free. Those who fail live on the wall of shame. If you finish four bowls, it’s half price. Receive a free side every time you come in to DonDon wearing your winner shirt. Call in to make an appointment to do the challenge.
“Ghost Ramen Challenge” at Ramen Bowls
Bhut Jolokia “ghost” peppers (mixed with a homemade habanero concentrate) are thrown into a double noodle, tonkotsu ramen. India's Defense Research Laboratory (IDRL) rated the ghost pepper with 1,041,427 Scoville heat units. To give you some heat intensity perspective jalapenos have a 3,000 to 6,000 rating and habaneros have a 300,000 SHU rating. This will hurt.
Those who finish within 30 minutes get the $20 meal free, a “Ghost Ramen Conquerer” T-shirt, and the right to declare themselves unbelievable on the wall of fame. The owners are looking to start a “wall of shame” in the bathroom for the many who fail. At this point, they’ve had 17 conquerors. Some spice enthusiasts, a video blogger, and those, near and far, making their way on the food challenge circuit.
“Gorilla Challenge” at Wheat State Pizza
Wheat State will prepare a 24-inch, 10-pound pizza, for any takers of the “Gorilla Challenge.” It’s not just about finishing this monstrous pizza: You’ve got to finish it in one hour or less (yeah right). Pay $30 up front, and if you can force the pizza down, get your money back and your photo on their Facebook page. Only one man has succeeded. Are you next?
“King Challenge” at Burrito King
It’s three times the size of a regular-sized everything burrito (meats, potatoes, jalapenos, salsa) and smothered in spicy white cheese. With so many people completing this challenge, they are looking to amp the spiciness. It’s $15, which sounds like a lot of burrito if you ask me. Finish it within 45 minutes and receive it free with a T-shirt.
“Blazin Challenge” at Buffalo Wild Wings
Twelve wings. Six minutes. And the added factor of each wing having bathed in their signature “blazin” sauce that ranks highest on their spicy scale. Still up for it? If you manage to get those scorchers down your throat without ranch, napkins or a beverage, you get a T-shirt and bragging rights.