April 8, 2014 10:40:00 AM
Alone at the bar, I stared at three bites of hamburger and six or so french fries. Could I finish?
A waitress walked over and said she believed in me. Over my shoulder, a voice said I still had 30 seconds. I felt hot. It came suddenly, and sweat spread across my back. An uneasiness crept into my throat. I had expected that. The troubling part was I could not tell if it was coming up, from my belly, or going down, from my mouth. I pushed it from my mind and looked at the food in the basket. I turned and met eyes with my wife, who was sitting at a table.
"Twenty seconds," she said.
I turned back toward the food and pulled in a long, deep breath that expanded my chest. I exhaled, shut my eyes, tried to harden my resolve. I picked up the burger.
Could I finish?
* * *
On the menu at Twisted Burger Company in West Point is something called "The F5 Challenge." It says: "The burger has 5 juicy patties, 5 pieces of your choice of cheese and one pound of fries." If you can eat it all in 22 minutes or less you get a T-shirt and the meal, which costs $22, is free.
I am no foodie. When it comes to dining, I admit that while I have a fondness for good food, I am equally impressed with large proportions. Once, when I was riding a Navy aircraft carrier across the Atlantic Ocean, the kitchen ran out of meat. It had been a long deployment. On the next-to-last night at sea, the dinner buffet featured only french fries and mashed potatoes. Some sailors complained. I kept an open mind, though, and enjoyed it, and remember laying in my bunk that night thinking that if they had only also served roasted potatoes, as well, it would have been a truly unique experience of starchy decadence. But I digress.
Two weeks ago, during my first visit to Twisted Burger Company, "The F5 Challenge" caught my attention. When I expressed interest in trying it my wife rolled her eyes. So I ordered something else. But as I paid, I asked the waitress what the record time was on "The F5 Challenge." She shook her head.
No one, she said, had been able to finish it in time.
That's when I knew.
I had to try.
On Thursday, I did.
* * *
J.T. Hurst, the restaurant's owner, brought it to our table. The burger stood nearly six inches tall. It consisted of nearly two pounds of meat and was completely surrounded by fries. I leaned in and hovered over it a bit, trying to create a sense of authority.
Hurst took my picture. The clock began.
I removed two patties and, using a fork, ate them separately. I turned toward the fries next, eating three at a time. Five minutes in I had wasted two patties and about a quarter-pound of fries.
I felt good, maybe even still hungry, and forged on.
Seven minutes in I had eaten half a pound of french fries. Thirty seconds later, I had ingested a third patty and Hurst, watching from a distance, commented that I was in great shape.
But the last bite of the third patty brought the first wave of resistance from my body. To counteract the feeling, I walked a lap around the restaurant. Then another. As I approached the table to begin again, a belch came out of me that embarrassed my wife. I apologized but with the release came new inspiration. With 10 minutes on the clock I had two patties, two buns and a half-pound of fries to go. I sipped some water and began again.
Within three minutes I had downed another patty, more than half of the remaining burger and most of the fries. But a pressure, heavier than before, built in my chest. Another lap was in order. The belch I needed to clear a path, though, would not come. The thought occurred to me that perhaps it was not air making me feel bloated but the mounds of food I had taken in. This made me very, very uneasy. Hurst must have noticed. He brought a bucket near the table.
That's when I carried my basket over to the bar. Faced with the home stretch and growing discomfort, I needed to be alone.
* * *
Three bites of hamburger and six or so french fries. Could I finish?
I could not.
As of this writing, "The F5 Challenge" remains unconquerable.
UPDATE: Since this column was written, a man has beaten the challenge. His name is Jeff Huffman, according to the restaurant's Facebook page. The Facebook post reads: "Saturday night Jeff Huffman Came Saw and Conquered the F5. He did it in a time of 21 minutes 58.36 seconds. It was close but it was done."
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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