The Deuce: What it feels like to eat 12 mini-burgers and not throw up during Good Time Charley's competition
photo by Jason DePasquale
Tuesday night I took part in a mini-burger eating contest at Good Time Charley's against a highly decorated pierogi eating champion, a skinny kid with expensive headphones who'd eaten 17 burgers the year before and five other foes. Before the contest, I texted my trainer Josh for his advice.
"Josh, sorry I skipped the gym yesterday and today, but I'm in a mini-burger eating contest tonight. Thoughts?"
Two minutes later my phone buzzed. "Do you still have goals??" it read. Double question marks his. I'm still not sure how to answer his question.
How to prepare for a heart attack
Here's my experience with eating contests:
See that empty space? That's nothing. Zero. No experience. The closest I've come to volume eating was having my picture taken with Adam Richman of Man v. Food. Yes, we kind of look alike, and no, we aren't Twitter friends yet (Adam, feel free to take the first step at www.twitter.com/RichRetyi).
To prepare, I skipped the gym for six days and asked my pal Danielle Berridge for advice. She's a friend of the program and a server at bd's Mongolian Grill where, for $12, you can eat your weight in New York Strip and sprouts.
"I've seen a ton of people eating in-person and on TV, but I don't have any tips," says Danielle.
I tell her I ate at Mongolian the day before the contest and she perks up, until I tell her I stopped at one bowl.
"Maybe if you ate a lot and stretched your stomach it would have helped," Danielle says, sounding dejected. "You only ate one bowl? I'm disappointed." There's a pause. "You have to just go for it."
A football player named Moose and the ladies of volume eating
On the drive to Charley's, I subject Rachel (the girlfriend who still somehow respects me) to Kanye West's new album to get me hyped. Like accompanying me to a mini-burger eating contest isn't enough.
photo by Amy Sumerton
We're the first to arrive and former Michigan football offensive lineman David Moosman directs to the competition area where we sit down and kill time. A server swings by and we share this exchange.
Server: Do you need a menu?
Me: No, I'm doing the burger eating contest.
Server: (maniacal laughter)
After 10 minutes in Good Time Charley's, I'm nervous. Irrationally nervous. Competitors start to materialize. A big guy with a goatee, shaved head and clean white sneakers wearing ear buds walks in. Another competitor arrives wearing huge headphones, bobbing to the music and air drumming. Music is a big part of binge eating. They get personalized hype playlists, and I get Jackson 5's "ABC" on the in-house stereo. One by one, eight of us are seated at three tables pushed together, and large pitchers of water and plates of burgers are slid onto the tabletop.
"Who needs a bucket," a server asks, sliding blue pails near our feet. Friends Jason DePasquale and Amy Sumerton show up to lend support, and a lot of people start taking pictures.
Moosman sits at one end of the table (he's competing) next to the big guy with the ear buds, the guy with the giant cans on his ears (it turns out he's the defending champion) and four other competitors. There's only one female at the table, but there are more ladies in attendance than men. Each competitor has a spotter equipped with paper and pencil to count the number of burgers they're champion has finished. Rachel is my spotter, but she makes a good point — with the first plate holding 10 burgers and subsequent plates holding three each, wouldn't math be a non-factor? Initially I agreed, but trust me, meat confusion sets in.
Jason massages my shoulders — the Doc Louis to my Little Mac — and Amy and Rachel take pictures and try not to judge me. Ten mini-burgers to start — plain and dry looking.
People get in some last-minute Jimmy Buffet and Wimpy jokes. It's on like Mahjongg.
The fanciest burger eater this side of Whiting, Ind.
We start. The first three seconds are caught on camera: Seven competitors with burger portions crammed into their maws and one guy with a ketchup bottle in hand getting all fancy. That guy is me (I am not eating dry-ass burgers). I squirt ketchup and mustard on four or five of the burgers figuring time isn't really going to be a factor. I hear the derisive comments and sense stares from my dedicated competition, but seriously, there's a fine line between barbarism and full chaos. I am not an animal.
photo by Amy Sumerton
The first burger and its dry bun are tough to swallow. I take a sip of water to cleanse my pallet and noticed the bun dissolve making it so much easier to swallow. A method is born. Big bite, gulp of water to kill the bun, then chew, chew, chew. The meat is like a bad fun run cookout, the bun sucks, but the ketchup and mustard are divine (suckers!). After two minutes, I'm four burgers in, after five minutes I have eight somewhere inside me. The record is 17. With five minutes left, I'm a little less than halfway there.
I planned to write while I ate, but I didn’t jot a word. The champ starts complaining shortly around the five-minute mark and abruptly stands up and drops out of the contest, walking away from the table. I look down the table at shreds of burger on Moosman's plate as he disassembled meat from bun and attacks them separately. I see some eaters dunk their buns in the pitchers of water like competitive eaters on TV. It's gross. I stick with my fancy, fancy method of eating and try to ignore a growing discomfort in my belly.
I finish the plate of 10 and attack a smaller plate of three. I'm able to eat two more burgers over the last two minutes to finish with 12 total. I feel full, but not sick. A moral victory, if a direct hit on my self respect.
Matthew Holowicki, the big guy with the ear buds, takes the contest and a $50 Good Time Charley's gift card with 17 burgers. Patrick Bush finishes second with 13 and your friend and self-loathing scribe takes third with 12. Moosman dejectedly finishes with 11 burgers.
"I barely ate anything today to prepare for this," Moosman says. "I feel fine but disappointed. The smell of burger will linger long after the failure fades away." (I love this guy!)
Holowicki collects his winnings and stretches his legs. He won the BTB Cantina burrito eating contest earlier in the year, polishing off two big burritos in less than five minutes and shaming his competition so badly that the management had to award an unplanned second-place prize for the next best finisher — six minutes later.
Holowicki praises my ketchup and mustard technique and legitimately expresses concern (albeit minor) that I was a threat to his cash money. He should have little reason for concern. Holowicki holds double digit titles won at pierogi eating contest, has won slider eating contests and has eaten more paczkis, pulled pork, hot dogs and burritos than men with twice my gustatory endurance. He's the man, and I'll never best him in volume eating, ever. I'm so mesmerized I forget to ask him what he was listening to before the showdown. If it's Kanye, I'll squirm with glee.
My shame is EXACTLY equal to my pride
Jason posts my favorite comment of the night on Facebook. "Just watched one of my best pals compete in a burger eating contest. My shame is EXACTLY equal to my pride." (I love this guy!)
photo by Rachel Marla Smith
Rachel also mentions being impressed and not feeling nearly as revolted as she anticipated. We have social time at BTB Cantina and I feel fine, until I start driving home. Then I feel it. The burger hangover is so bad, that I can't write. I miss my deadline. I send an apologetic email to my AnnArbor.com boss (I love Jen Eyer!) take two antacids and go straight to bed. I wake well rested, shower and subject the pipes in our apartment building the plumbing equivalent of Saw 3D. Rachel sleeps through the whole thing.
My advice to aspiring volume eaters — don't. Get into something less physically destructive but equally annoying like cycling or disc golf. Except Holowicki — you were born to eat huge plates of stuff. I want to see you on TV someday, point to my bodyguard and say, "I lost a mini-burger eating contest to that guy one day," and have him briefly forget about his involvement in an upcoming plot to assassinate me. Only briefly.
Richard "The Burger Destroyer" Retyi writes the bi-weekly-ish column "Lie to Your Cats About Santa" where he subjects himself to things like burger eating contests and Kerrytown. He recently won a bunch of writing awards which he'll brag about this week and then promise never to mention again. You can read more of his AnnArbor.com work here or other musings on his co-blog "In Bed By Eleven" or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and suggest future story ideas. Thanks for reading!
Just like your favorite DVDs, here are some deleted scenes from this article.
Scene 1: Danielle Berridge says, "My favorite are couples. Sometimes they've paid and the guy goes to the bathroom and he's in there for 15 minutes. The poor girls sits and waits and messes with her phone, texting or something. You almost want to pat her on the back and apologize. It doesn't happen often. Sometimes during the meal you'll see people disappear for 15 minutes between bowls. It's pretty funny."
Scene 2: Rachel and I check Facebook and Twitter on our phones for a eight solid minutes trying to ignore the fact that we're both waiting for the start of a burger eating contest. We stare at our little screens and don't say a word. This is what meals in the Draco household must be like.
Scene 3: Jason's right. This is just like the Kobayashi Maru. No one wins.