You’re on vacation near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the family’s hungry. You’re in the mood for some great food.
You pick a restaurant. Maybe it’s not one of the best restaurants in town but it’s still a great place. You go in and sit down and thumb through the menu, you see it: A food challenge.
It’s a 5.5-pound burrito, a giant hamburger or maybe a tower of 1,000 onion rings. In fact, a massive thing that no human should try to consume. Something like the Old 96er in the John Candy classic “The Great Outdoors”.
Is your interest piqued? Are you tempted? Ready to take your trip to new heights? Vacations are about making memories, after all. What is more memorable than the time dad tried to eat 50 pancakes?
Though I’ve seen several challenges over the years that I thought I could do, I’ve never bellied up to the bar.
First, the prize is always a little lackluster. I get it, the restaurants put out all this food and the owners don’t want to add much more to the loss. But from a consumer standpoint, is making yourself (in the best case scenario) bloated and uncomfortable – or in the worst case – outright sick – worth the reward?
To that end, I’m not subjecting myself to all that for a free $35 meal and a T-shirt. I’ll just pay for a regular meal and you can keep the souvenir.
I first became aware of food challenges via that John Candy movie. He and Dan Akroyd with their families on vacation in Minnesota or Wisconsin or some other place people from Chicago go in the summer.
But my favorite cinematic food challenge involves Paul Newman and the imminently quotable “Cool Hand Luke.” Luke bets he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs and the other prisoners on the farm take sides and place their bets.
“Nobody ever eats fifty eggs.”
“All right now, get mad at them … eggs. Eat it there, boy. Chew on it. Gnaw on it.”
In truth, I’ve been waiting half my life for the right situation to tell somebody to get mad at them eggs. One of these Easters, I’m gonna break it out. I swear I am.
And also, if someplace like Crockett’s Breakfast Camp or the Pancake Pantry ever offers a Cool Hand Luke challenge, I just may have to defile myself.
But the world has changed a lot since the days of “Cool Hand Luke” and “The Great Outdoors.”
Today’s food challenges
Today we have Adam Richman traveling the country to find a local food challenge to conquer. And also we have Joey Chestnut and the world of competitive eating. Specifically, food challenges can be a great marketing tool for a local restaurant trying to make a name for itself.
Honestly, I’m surprised with all the competition in East Tennessee, more restaurants aren’t trying various food challenges.
Got the best barbecue? Or steak if you’re fancy? Let’s go. How many egg yolks can you drink like Rocky? How many cinnamon rolls or different types of pancakes can you eat? In fact, why not breakfast options? Although, that would be a heavy way to start your day.
With all the pizza places in town, why isn’t someone serving a 12-pound pizza and issuing a two-person team challenge? Honestly, it seems like something Blake Shelton and Ole Red Gatlinburg could get right on.
Can’t one of the pancake places issue a pound of bacon challenge? Comes with French toast, chicken tenders and hot dogs. It’s $65 but if you eat it in 7 minutes we’ll give it to you for free along with a T-shirt and a mason jar filled with beer cheese.
In return, you get a night filled with gastrointestinal problems and meat sweats and the rest of the place gets a dinner show.
I know it’s not for everybody. For example, The Wild Plum Tea Room is not going to serve pounds of food. The finest restaurants in town won’t have 15 scoops of ice cream covered in chocolate chips sully their dining rooms.
Still, if you’ve got the stomach, the iron will and the desire to create a family memory that will last a lifetime, here are some of the best places you can go in Gatlinburg to challenge yourself and the laws of nature.
3. Puckers Sports Grill
Pop in for a quick bite and pop out with intestinal issues? That’s fun for the whole family. The challenge in Pucker’s Legendary Wings Challenge isn’t volume. Specifically, it’s heat.
Eat twelve of the “Real Puckin” hot wings in 5 minutes or less and you receive a free T-shirt, your meal free and your picture on the wall of famous puckers.
What is the deal with the free T-shirts people? Is it that much of an incentive? For $15 to $35 each, you can get all the T-shirts you want up and down the strip.
Also, the hot wings don’t just hurt going down, you know. There is no worse feeling in the world than being in the bathroom at 3 am with your back door on fire. A T-shirt? Get out of here with that mess.
Honestly, I’ve never been much for heat. My brother, however, used to be crazy for all the various hot stuff until he roasted the lining of his digestive tract. Now he can’t handle anything either.
Still, I know there are people in the world who can handle the heat. Certainly, that’s how all that Nashville Hot Chicken stuff stays in business.
So, if you want the spice, more power to you. However, they don’t call it Puckers for nuthin’.
2. Loco Burro
Gatlinburg’s party-time Mexican restaurant is a local favorite on the strip in downtown Gatlinburg. It offers what sounds like a manageable challenge.
But I promise you, son, that when you get 4 pounds into a 5-pound burrito and you’re going to go on a vision quest like Val Kilmer in “The Doors”. You’re going to see snakes and geckos and the ancestors.
Look, when your grandmother’s spirit comes back to Earth and sees you trying to consume the Whole 5 lb. Chihuahua, you’re going to need to be able to withstand the shame in her eyes.
The Whole 5lb. Chihuahua is filled with fresh-Mex rice, refried beans, black beans, seasoned beef and topped with cilantro sour cream, guacamole, pico de gallo, lettuce, tomatoes, chili con carne and a Mexican cheese blend.
If you eat the thing by yourself within 30 minutes – HALF AN HOUR?!??!! – you get the $29.99 burrito for free and a free T-shirt.
The burrito challenge may offer delicious food but in half an hour? I’m not sure you’re going to taste it … pardon me for the crudeness here … until later.
Loco Burro is owned by the restaurant family Kennedy Concepts.
1. Dick’s Last Resort
Dick’s used to have the 48 oz challenge, charmingly referred to as the T-Boner Challenge. But they’ve upped the ante.
Now for the more discreetly named Big Meat Challenge, you have to eat two “large” steaks, a double side of loaded mashed potatoes and a doubled side of buttered broccoli with a side salad. And you’ve got an hour to do the deed.
But that’s not all. You also have to eat a Macho Nacho App, referred to on the menu as a ginormous Heap O’ Crispy Chips loaded with cheez sauce, chili, jalapenos, sour cream and “much mo”. Plus you have to eat a foot-long hot dog. I’m not calling it Dick’s huge wiener.
Dick’s (jokingly?) says your family still has to pay if you perish while trying the challenge. If you manage to do all that and survive, you get your $79.99 meal free, a T-shirt and your name on the local restaurant’s wall of fame. What a deal!