World championship eaters Joey "Jaws" Chestnut and Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas downed 62 and 40 hot dogs, respectively, to win the 96th annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4 in New York. Their prize, besides bragging rights? Try $10,000 apiece. • Regrettably, no such prize awaits anyone who tries one of the following Tampa Bay challenges. But there are T-shirts, free meals, walls of fame (shame?) and the undying respect (pity?) of the people who witness you stuffing your face with assorted meats, chips, wings or pizza. • The staggering calorie count prevented us from trying all of these. But maybe you're hungering for a challenge. Dig in. — Anne Glover [email protected]
Big Belly's Burger Challenge
Big Belly Burgers, 109 West Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon, (813) 685-1911, big-belly-burgers.com
The recipe is simple: Take a 1-pound burger with 1 pound of fixin's and 1 pound of seasoned fries. Plate up and say GO! The eater has 20 minutes to finish. Cost is $15.99 (which isn't waived if you finish on time), and the grand prize is a Big Belly's T-shirt and a place on the wall of fame. Coming soon: A T-shirt made especially for the challenge.
Hurricane Fred Challenge
Big Fred's Famous Roast Beef, 2169 N Hercules Ave., Clearwater, (727) 733-0101. The Hurricane Fred must be ordered one hour before pickup.
You might have read or heard about this challenge when tbt*'s own Sean Daly tried to eat this without help. We still have nightmares about all of that mustard on his fingers and face. Here's his description of the $35 behemoth: "(The burger) consists of a 5-pound patty the width of a Hyundai hubcap, 10 slices of American cheese, 10 slices of smoked bacon, plus tomato, lettuce, onion, pickle, mayo, mustard and ketchup all on a homemade bun the thickness of a sofa cushion. Finish the sucker in two hours, and you get your meal for free, plus a T-shirt." Final tally for Daly: Eight strips of bacon consumed, plus 11/2 pounds of meat. Hurricane Fred remains undefeated.
Monster Iguana Challenge
All Green Iguana locations: Brandon, Southshore, St. Petersburg, Stadium, Veterans and Ybor City, greeniguana.com
The challenge here is not so much how big the burger is (though it's a, uh, whopper), but how it's put together. They take three of their signature burgers — 5 pounds' worth — and create a Frankenstein-esque monster burger. Plan on one patty with bacon, spinach-artichoke dip and blue cheese; a second with mushrooms, bacon, Swiss cheese and grilled onions; and the final one with cheddar, American and provolone cheeses with bacon, all in between buns. It's served with a pound of fries with the skin still on for $19.95. Finish the meal in an hour and you get your picture on the wall of fame and the meal for free.
Wall of Fame Monster
Cooter's Raw Bar and Grill, 423 Poinsettia Ave. Clearwater Beach, (727) 462-2668, cooters.com
The challenge is pretty straightforward: 11/2 pounds of meat, 11/2 pounds of fries and 11/2 pounds of toppings ($19.99; and that's not waived if you complete the challenge). Eat it in an hour and get your name on a plaque with the date on the Monster Burger Hall of Fame. Right now, close to 70 names are on the wall.
Fan vs. Food Challenge
The Brewhouse at the Trop, 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg, (727) 825-3120
If the action on the field gets a little slow at Rays games, you can always wander into this restaurant, which looks a little like an airport bar, and watch someone try to win this challenge: Finish the 2-pound burger (four 8-ounce patties, 16 slices of bacon, four slices of cheese on a bun) plus a pound of french fries ($29.98) and get two free tickets to a Rays game. (Wait, can't you get some pretty good seats for $24?)
The Ultimate Burger Challenge
Winners Grill, 12060 Anderson Road, Tampa, (813) 963-3200, winnersgrill.com
Picture a huge 2-pound patty served on a "super kaiser roll," topped with Swiss, cheddar, provolone, lettuce and tomatoes (along with the holy trinity of mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise) and served with a pound of fries ($28.99). If you can eat the entire platter within 45 minutes, your photo will grace the wall of fame and you'll get a $10 credit for your next visit and a free T-shirt.
Big Boy Challenge
Ballyhoo Grille, 7604 Ehrlich Road, Tampa, (813) 792-1500, ballyhootampa.com
Scarf down 2 pounds of hamburger with toppings and a side of fries ($27.99) within 30 minutes and you'll get on the wall of fame and receive a T-shirt. Yeah, it sounds simple now …
Eats Burger Challenge
Eats American Grill, 4502 S Dale Mabry, Tampa, (813) 835-3287, eatsamericangrill.com
Now we're talking: Eat a 2-pound burger, plus a pound of fries ($19.99) in 20 minutes and they'll buy the burger and give you an Eats T-shirt.
The Davy Jones Wings Challenge
Rapscallions, 4422 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Land O'Lakes, rapscallions.net
Recently featured on the Travel Channel's Man v. Food Nation, the challenge involves eating 10 wings coated with a sauce so hot that many workers don masks and gloves when handling it in the kitchen. The challenge consists of one eater, 10 wings and 30 minutes. Once the white ceramic plate hits the table and the clock starts ticking, the contender cannot have anything else besides the hot-sauce-slathered wings. No drink. No bleu cheese. No nothing. If the challenger beats the heat and the clock, he must sit for five minutes after the last bite to endure the "afterburn" before being deemed a champion. At that point, his photo joins a wall of fame that as of June 1 had only 11 pictures on it. Want the sauce without the challenge? Rapscallions owners have created the Castaway Sauce Co. (castawaysaucecompany.com) and sell it under the new name "Black Beard's Revenge Hot Sauce."
Inferno Soup Challenge
Nitally's, 2462 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 321-8424
The sign promoting the challenge is sobering (and sober is what you have to be to compete): "Please understand this soup is not a joke." It's made with fresh ghost pepper instead of the more intense extract, along with about a dozen other peppers, including three varieties of habanero. Ghost pepper, for the uninitiated, is the hottest pepper on the planet. At about 1 million Scoville units, it is about 100 times hotter than the jalapeno and about three times hotter than the Scotch bonnet. Yet this piping hot (temperature-wise) soup arrives in a bowl the size of a bathroom sink. You have 30 minutes to eat it (after signing a legal waiver) to claim bragging rights and a now $1,000 prize. No one has been able to do it yet, and the contest will end once 100 people have taken the challenge. Owner Ally Valdez says he's creating a smaller version of the challenge, Baby Inferno, with less liquid for the soup but the same amount of extreme hotness. Not into fiery soup? He offers two more challenges: Attack of the Tacos, with 20 tacos made with chipotle fried rice and inferno sauce; and the Bangkok Burrito, a 5-pound Thai-Mex "baby" with chipotle fried rice and inferno sauce. Finish off any of his lesser challenges and you'll get a $200 prize, your meal ($18.99) for free, a special T-shirt and bragging rights.
Steaks and meat
The 48-ounce Club
Shula's Steak House at the Intercontinental Hotel, 4860 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, (813) 286-4366, donshula.com
Is it a challenge if nearly everyone who orders the 48-ounce cut of beef finishes it? We decided that, ultimately, because Shula's Steak House keeps a database of finishers — a cyberspace wall of fame, if you will — it makes our list. The club has almost 37,000 members, all searchable.
The 6-pound Challenge
Frontier Steakhouse Cattle Co., 8602 E Sligh Ave., Tampa, (813) 621-3050
The cost to enter this challenge is high — $59.99 — but eat all 6 pounds of beef and you'll have done it for free. Plus, they'll add your name to their wall of fame.
Jail Break Challenge
Felony's Bar & Grill, 7285 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill, (352) 666-1831.
We don't know what would be harder: actually breaking out of jail or consuming this behemoth of a sandwich that costs $44.99. The restaurant serves about 5 pounds of New York strip steak grilled with provolone, mushrooms, onions, peppers and horseradish sauce on an oversized bun, plus a large order of fries and large soda. If you eat everything within 45 minutes, it's free. As a bonus, you get a Felony's T-shirt. Hope they have a lot of XXXLs there.
Sandwiches, hot dogs, other stuff
Kitchen Sink Challenge
Five Bucks Drinkery, 247 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 896-5118, fivebucks727.com.
You'll have 30 minutes to take down a real kitchen sink (nicknamed Buster) filled with $29 worth of bacon-wrapped chili cheese dogs served over a bed of tater tots and fries, smothered in queso and topped with jalapeno slices, frizzled onions and a heaping scoop of sour cream. Lip-smackin', right? Empty the sink and you get your picture on the wall of fame and receive an "I Beat the Kitchen Sink" T-shirt. The challenger who has come the closest was a slightly built woman who left only 8 ounces of tater tots behind, report the bar's owners. That was after she had slathered it all with ketchup.
Two Gyro King locations, 2671 Alt. U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, and 2014 U.S. 19 N, Holiday, gyroking.net
Even at its smallest size, a gyro can be difficult to eat without making a bit of a mess with the tzatziki sauce and the large shavings of meat along with tomatoes and onions. Now imagine a 12-pound-plus version and you'll appreciate this challenge. But if two people eat the gargantuan Greek staple in an hour, they get bragging rights and a $500 cash prize. After almost a year of the challenge, though, no one has claimed the cash. Got a friend who you think can handle it?
The Dagwood Challenge
Lucky Dill Deli, 277 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 895-5859, luckydillofstpete.com
Could the erstwhile husband of Blondie have been the original competitive eater? This sandwich challenge that's named after him confirms it. The finished product weighs nearly 3 pounds and is made with corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, Cuban pork, turkey, smoked turkey, ham, beef salami, Genoa salami, prosciutto, bacon, American, Swiss, lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle. And let's not forget the side of potato salad and pickle spear ($19.95). Eat it in 30 minutes or less and you'll join the Dagwood Hall of Fame and get a T-shirt to prove it. And put this on your radar: Lucky Dill is scheduling a Dagwood Challenge fundraiser for All Children's Hospital on Aug. 13 with a cash prize.
The Cuban Challenge
Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, 1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 822-4562
Eat a 3-foot-plus-long Cuban sandwich by yourself in 30 minutes or less and it's free. If you don't finish, you fork over $29.99. Rules for the challenge include no restroom breaks, no dunking in liquid, no purging (unless by accident) and no crying. Fair warning: All of that Cuban bread is really tough to swallow.
The Triple Challenge
Eddie's Bar and Grill, 1283 Bayshore Blvd., Dunedin, (727) 734-2300, eddiesbarandgrill.com
Not content to offer just one stuff-your-face challenge, Eddie's has three opportunities to make a pig of yourself, all with varying degrees of reward:
• Monsta Burger is a 3-pound burger with all the toppings served with a pound of french fries; finish in under 30 minutes for a free T-shirt and picture on the wall of fame, plus you won't have to pay $24.99.
• Super Duper Nachos: A gigantic tray of nachos, which they describe as being on steroids, topped with copious jalapenos. Finish and you get the $24.99 plate free, plus a T-shirt, a place on the wall of fame and $100 in gift certificates.
• Fire-in-the-Hole-Wings: Down 13 wings in 15 minutes without the aid of drinks or wipes. Oh, and you can't take the meat off the bones either. Finish and you get them for free (not $16.99), a T-shirt, a spot on the wall of fame and $100 in gift certificates.
Special bonus: The T-shirts actually document your feat, with an inscription that reads "I Battled the Burger," "I Battled the Wings" or "I Battled the Nachos." And we'll just say one thing right now: If you've got all three, you're ready for Nathan's.
The 28" Challenge
Marina's Pizza Lakewood Ranch, 1723 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Bradenton, (941) 747-0054
We were encouraged when we saw that this one was an inch less, but then we saw that it weighs up to 13 pounds. They start with a 5-pound crust, 3 pounds of cheese, 21/2 pounds of sauce and 3 pounds of toppings of your choice. But it actually cooks down to just 11 pounds, they assured us. A team of two is invited to eat the wagon-wheel-sized pie in an hour, or else pay $50. Do it and it's free, plus you get a gift certificate for $20 and your name on the wall of fame. So far, after 172 people sitting down to chow, the wall's still empty.
The 29" XL Challenge
American Pie Pizza Company, 9331 Adamo Drive, Tampa/Brandon, (813) 621-6569
You know you're in trouble when the description of the food you'll be eating is described as feeding 8 to 10 people. And that's usually what this pizza does with its 60-plus slices. But for the challenge, they require two people to polish it off in 29 minutes. Do it and it's free. Otherwise, you'll pay prices that range from $29 for a plain cheese to $49 for a loaded pie. Be sure to call ahead if you're going to order it.
Editor's note: Special tip of the hat to a website called eatfeats.com, which lists challenges and eating contests all over the country. Much of my research began there.