PHOTO CREDIT TARA LEE
The day before I’m supposed to attempt the Flat Line Burger Challenge at the Hog Shack Cook House (160-3900 Bayview Street), I’m nervous. The Challenge involves trying to eat two burger patties with all the fixings nestled between two grilled cheese sandwiches in five minutes or less. Gulp. Oh, and you also have to gobble up either a salad or fries. Double gulp. Those who manage to clean their plates get the $18 meal for free and the immense glory of the win.
INTERIOR OF HOG SHACK, PHOTO CREDIT: TARA LEE
Triumphant eaters have their photos posted on the Hog Shack’s wall of fame, across from the wall of shame that features dozens of photos of less successful eaters. The winners have all been male, although some women have valiantly tried.
PHOTOS OF THE VICTORS, PHOTO CREDIT: TARA LEE
JUST SOME OF THE MANY PHOTOS OF THOSE WHO FELL SHORT, PHOTO CREDIT: TARA LEE
Also, if you search for the Challenge on YouTube, you’ll find numerous videos of people attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to demolish the burger platter.
According to my server Jade Masmela, only about one customer a month is brave enough to meet the burger platter head on. Often, it’s an impromptu decision after friends egg them on, but on occasion, people come with the serious intent of trying the Challenge. She says that those who come close, or finish it, basically swallow their bites whole. Some deconstruct the meal and eat it piece by piece. Others take their cue from professional food competitors and dunk food in pitchers of water in order to soften and moisten it. That way, the meal is easier to swallow down.
After I arrive and sit down, I announce to Jade that I’m going to be taking on the Flat Line Challenge. I try to sound confident, but I think I actually sound fearful. She looks at me sympathetically and tells me not to worry. But I do. The thing is, while I adore food to an almost obsessive degree, I’m far from a fast or a massive eater. Instead, I tend to savour each bite, as opposed to sprinting to the finish line. Plus, as a child, my grandmother was always at my elbow at the dinner table, lecturing me about chewing my food more. And, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten more than one burger at a time.
If this all sounds like a bunch of excuses, they are. They run through my head up until the point when my plate arrives. Diners around me gasp incredulously: is she actually going to eat all that? In person, the dish is daunting, the stack of grilled cheese and patties looking monstrously high. When I ordered, Jade suggested I go with the salad since it’s lighter, but I chose the fries instead since I figured they’d be easier to swallow down. Looking at the mound of fries, I’m not so sure anymore. A part of me wants to run out of the restaurant and admit defeat, but that would be embarrassing and cowardly. I can do this.
PHOTO CREDIT: JADE MASMELA
As Jade gets the timer ready, I steel myself for the eating ahead, promising to do the best I can. Maybe the impossible will happen?
And I’m off! I begin well. I grab the top grilled cheese sandwich with the first patty and lettuce and tomato, not caring about how I look or how burger sauce is already dripping down my arms. I take rapid bites, trying not to chew too many times before I swallow. I also attempt to make my bites as large as possible, so I’m eating bread and patty, all in one go.
The Challenge suddenly seems doable. I find a rhythm, and the sandwich starts to decrease in size. I’m eating faster than I’ve ever eaten in my life. Even amid my furious eating, the food lover in me is registering the various flavours and textures that are rapidly hitting my palate: the juiciness of the patty, the crispness of the lettuce, the cheesy, buttery-ness of the grilled sandwich.
Perhaps my enjoyment of the food is my biggest downfall. When Jade tells me that I’ve used up half my time, I’m only part way through the first sandwich. “You’re doing really well. Keep on going,” she urges, encouragingly. I’m already starting to wilt with the knowledge that there’s no possible way that I’m going to even come close to completing.
Plus, my jaw is starting to tire and ache. I didn’t anticipate the patty being so hefty. My bites are still not big enough and I’m chomping too much. The fear of heartburn afterwards though, prevents me from changing my strategy. I occasionally speed up when I hit a patch of renewed determination and adrenaline, but for the most part, I slow down as the time runs down.
“Thirty seconds left.” I feel a huge sense of relief that the end is near, and as Jade counts down, I collapse into my last bite. I’m just short of finishing one half of the sandwich tower. I haven’t touched the fries yet. I’m a total loser.
However, as I stare at my still full plate, I start to experience a sense of pride. I don’t know anyone else who’s attempted the Flat Line Challenge. And I tried, I really did. As a bonus, I have enough food to take home for two more meals. Diners around me offer their congratulations for trying, and I bask in the glow of my failure.
As I leave the restaurant and bid farewell to Jade, I consider what I could do better the next time, if it should so happen. Maybe in my spare time, I should practice eating faster? Perhaps eating the patty with the sandwich was my tactical error?
For those considering the Flat Line Challenge, I’d highly recommend it. It’s messy, requires shameless gorging, and ultimately, is a ton of fun. Who knows? You just might make the wall of fame – with seconds to spare.